Keeping an open mind about mental health

Over the past few years Europe has been plagued by financial woes with Spain and Portugal, Ireland, Italy and especially Greece decidedly unwell. However, according to a recent study in the Journal European Neuropsychopharmacology, Europe’s illness extends far beyond the collective hip pocket.

The study shows that psychiatric illness is now the biggest source of ill health in Europe. Almost 40 per cent of the region’s population – around 165 million people - experience a mental disorder each year. Anxiety is the most common condition, followed by insomnia and depression.

Meanwhile, in Australia, whilst our economy is in reasonably good shape – at least by comparison – we cannot afford to be complacent with respect to mental health. According to the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing (the latest figures available), 45 per cent of Australians aged 16-85 years had at some point in their lives experienced a mental disorder.

As in Europe, anxiety is the most common condition, with women more likely to be affected than men. So-called substance use disorders – involving the harmful use of, or dependency on, alcohol or other drugs – are more common in men.

Of course, it’s normal to feel anxious now and again. We’ve all had that experience of butterflies in our stomach maybe before an exam or a job interview. Anxiety is actually a normal and reasonable response to danger or stress; it’s an emotion that triggers our body’s nervous system to be able to make quick, and hopefully, correct decisions.

Some studies suggest that we inherit the tendency to feel more stress. Other studies describe stress as a response that is learned over a lifetime. In any event, people who experience high levels of stress, tend to hold beliefs which make them feel threatened, ultra vigilant and out of control.

There is no doubt too much stress can be a health hazard; so the first important step in stress management involves being aware of when our stress levels become unhealthy. Once stress overload is recognised there is a range of stress management skills available to address the problem.

We probably don’t need to be reminded about stress, but perhaps we do need to be reminded about how best to manage it. And during Mental Health Awareness Week (9-15 October) each year we are encouraged by the Mental Health Association of Australia to consider how our “overall wellbeing should encompass mental health as well as physical, social, spiritual and community health”. In some states of Australia the emphasis on mental health awareness has been extended from a week to all of October. In fact it’s an issue that deserves our attention year round.

If you feel tense or “stressed out” almost all the time, and anxiety is affecting your everyday activities, then it’s time to have a chat with your GP. You might also benefit from the top ten Stress-Less Tips. Check out the website www.stresslesstips.org.au

Your pharmacist can help too. There is a series of mental health information cards available from pharmacies around Australia as part of the Pharmaceutical Society’s (PSA) Self Care Program.

No doubt throughout life there’ll be plenty of stressful situations for us to cope with. Just how we cope will determine how healthy we stay. So, for a little extra help on how to stress less, ask your Self Care Pharmacist for the fact card titled Anxiety.

There are also useful cards on subjects such as Depression, Relaxation Techniques, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Sleeping Problems. They are all available from High Wycombe Pharmacy

Maybe with a little effort we could claim to be a mentally as well as an economically healthy country.

Published by the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia and written by John Bell

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