Helpline 1800 18 7263
Do people ever recover from mental illness? What works, and what doesn’t? There are a lot of opinions out there, but here, in one place, are the facts.
Most people with a mental illness recover well with appropriate ongoing treatment and support. People with mental illness severe enough to cause disability are able to live independently in the community, if given the opportunity and support to do so.
Related: Treatments for mental illness
Around 65% of people experiencing symptoms of a mental illness don’t seek help from health services. About 40% of women get help, but for men it’s fewer than 30%.
Mental illness responds to treatment and support, not orders and judgement. People with depression can’t just ‘cheer up’. People with anxiety can’t just ‘calm down’. People experiencing delusions can’t just ‘come to their senses’ and people with OCD can’t just ‘give it a rest’. If you wouldn’t say it to someone with a broken leg, don’t say it to someone with a mental illness.
Related: the SANE guide to stigma
Many illnesses labelled ‘physical’ can have effects on your mental health and mental illnesses can affect your physical health. Mental illness can affect your life expectancy by up to 25 years and make you more susceptible to other physical illnesses. Having complex mental illness has an even greater effect.
What works to manage your depression, or your uncle’s depression, or a celebrity’s depression, may not work for someone else with depression. With support and advice from health professionals, people often try different combinations of medication, therapy and lifestyle changes to manage their illness, before settling on what works for them.
For most people being treated for (or managing) an illness, the side-effects of medication are outweighed by their benefits. Mental illness medications are not designed to change your personality, but to reduce the symptoms that are getting in the way of you expressing your personality.
The earlier you seek help for mental illness, the better your prospects for recovery. So if you think there’s even a slight chance you need help with your mental health, talk to your GP. You’re not clogging up the system or denying anyone else care. Either you’ll be reassured that you’re not unwell, or you’ll get a head start on the road back to good health.
Related: Getting better
Just like with any other illness, people who live with mental illness only need to go to hospital if their symptoms are serious enough. Most people receiving psychological treatment or managing mental illness are able to work, have relationships and go about normal daily business.
Three out of five Australians with a mental disorder are employed, which is lower than for people who aren’t living with mental illness.
Mental illness is still stigmatised by employers: as few as 43% of small-medium enterprises say they would consider hiring someone with a mental illness. When specifically asked about people with psychotic illness or substance addiction problems the figure drops to one fifth or fewer.
However, surveys consistently show that employers who hire people living with mental illness say they are happy with their choice and are more likely to hire another person with mental illness. As stigma reduces, employment prospects for people with mental illness rise.
Related: Mental illness & the workplace
During 2013-14 $8 billion ($344 per person) was spent on funding for mental health-related services in Australia.
This represents just over 5.1% of the $154.6 billion (just over $6600 per person) spent on all health goods and services during the same period.
Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800
Lifeline 13 11 14
Suicide Callback Service 1300 659 467
Call 000 for urgent medical attention or police attendance
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2008). National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing: Summary of Results, Australia, 2007, ABS cat. no. 4326.0. Canberra: ABS, p. 23.
Parks, J., Svendsen, D., Singer, P. and Foti, M. eds. (2006). Mortality and Morbidity in People with Serious Mental Illness. Alexandria, VA: NASMHPD, p.11.
De Hert, M., Correll, C. U., Bobes, J., Cetkovich-Bakmas, M., Cohen, D., Asai, I., Detraux, J., Gautam, S., Möller, H-J., Ndetei, D., Newcomer, J., Uwakwe, R. and Leucht, S. (2015). Physical Illness in Patients with Severe Mental Disorders. I. Prevalence, Impact of Medications and Disparities in Health Care. World Psychiatry. Volume 10(1), pp.52-77.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) (2015). National Health Survey First Results. ABS cat. no. 4364.0.55.001. Canberra, ABS. [accessed 7 October 2016]
WISE Employment (2014) Empowermental Research Snapshot 2014. WISE Employment. [accessed 6 October 2016]
DEEWR (2008). Employer Attitudes to Employing People with Mental Illness. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, p.29.
AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2015). Health Expenditure Australia 2013–14. Cat. no. HWE 63. Canberra: AIHW