Mental illness is a chronic illness

Friday, 7 January 2022

Chronic illness is a very broad label that encompasses a range of long-term health conditions.

The causes of chronic conditions are varied and complex. Unlike the flu or an ear infection, which typically last for a few days or weeks before clearing up, chronic conditions are persistent and must be consistently managed. Some chronic illnesses are infectious, while others are not. It is important to note that not all people experience the same condition in the same way.

Types of chronic illness lie across a spectrum of conditions including disability, genetic disorders, trauma, and mental illness.

Chronic mental illness

In Australia, it is estimated that 45% of people experience a mental health condition in their lifetime.

In any one year, one million Australian adults have depression and over two million have anxiety. At least 690,000 Australian adults live with complex mental illness such as bipolar, PTSD, OCD, and schizophrenia.

Mental health conditions can affect anyone at any stage of life. There is no consistent reason why someone develops a mental health condition. However, there are factors that may make a person more likely to experience mental illness: some conditions can be inherited through a predisposition. Others can be triggered by environmental factors and traumatic life experiences.

For some people, their mental illness may only be a couple of short episodes. However, many people must manage their mental health condition consistently throughout their whole life.

Although the severity of mental health conditions can fluctuate,  they are often persistent in nature which makes mental illness chronic.

The stigma attached to mental illness means many people don’t believe mental illness is chronic or even an illness at all. Mental illness is not the same as mental health and wellbeing: it is a chronic condition, no different from any other chronic health condition.

Mental health vs. mental illness

Mental health and wellbeing practices are something that everyone should take part in. Protecting our mental health and wellbeing is just as important as looking after our physical health. It enables us to function well, have meaningful social connections, positive self-esteem, and be better able to cope with life’s ups and downs.

Some ways to improve our mental health and wellbeing include getting enough sleep, practising mindfulness, eating well, and exercising.

Like everyone, people with chronic mental illness benefit from good mental health and wellbeing practices, however it does not ‘cure’ their illness.

There is no cure for chronic mental illness but with proper management people with mental illness can live fulfilling lives.

To help manage chronic mental illness people may take medication or regularly see their GP, psychologist, or psychiatrist. In some instances, many people do a combination of therapies and take a range of different medications depending on their diagnosis.

People with mental illness are often faced with an extra barrier than those with visible chronic conditions.

The stigma attached to mental illness means people who have conditions are often questioned for the validity of their diagnosis.

People with chronic mental illness are faced with unwanted advice from friends, family, and even strangers about how they can ‘cure’ their illness.  People believe a positive mentality and healthy wellbeing will cure all mental health conditions. This belief enforces that people who experience mental illness are weak or less than.

Complex mental health conditions come with further discrimination. Due to stereotypes and dangerous media representation, people with complex mental health conditions are considered violent, crazy, and to be feared.

People with chronic complex mental health conditions may act in a way that is unexpected or confronting. However, research has shown that people with complex mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence. People with complex chronic mental illness are not to be feared or pushed out from society. Passing judgement on someone for their ill health due to lack of awareness is not an excuse nor is it helpful and only makes it harder for the person affected by mental illness to reach recovery.

People with chronic mental illness are the experts of their own condition. They are aware of their triggers, how to manage the ebbs and flows of their condition and how to access help. If someone talks about their condition restrain from offering advice unless they ask you.

Chronic mental illness is covered by DES

The Disability Employment Service (DES) program is an Australian Government-funded service that helps people with a mental health condition, health condition, disability, or injury find work.

Often chronic mental illness is not affiliated with disability so many people do not realise they are eligible for employment support through DES.

EPIC Assist (EPIC) is a not-for-profit DES provider that prides itself on providing holistic support and helping people find not just any job but a job they love.

In the past year, EPIC Assist supported more people with chronic illness than any other disability type.

EPIC Mental Health Consultancy

EPIC understands the stress of searching for a job can exacerbate chronic mental illness. For this reason, in 2013 we created a free Mental Health Consultancy.

Our Mental Health Consultants have expertise in mental health therapeutic approaches and employment services. They are experienced in developing practical skills to help people prepare for their job.

EPIC will also work with your employer to help them understand your condition and if any adjustments need to be made.

If you have a chronic mental illness and are looking for support finding work with an inclusive employer, contact EPIC today.

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