Find out the eight warning signs to a potential mental health issue

Be aware: Dr Cathy Allen encouraged employers and employees  to be aware of the warning signs of a mental health issue in the workplace.
Be aware: Dr Cathy Allen encouraged employers and employees to be aware of the warning signs of a mental health issue in the workplace.

A Wollongong medical practice has been doing its bit to help raise awareness about early warning signs that can lead to a mental health issue.

Ochre Medical Centre held a mental health event last month to help people in the Illawarra community identify eight symptoms that can include memory and concentration changes, appetite loss and poor sleep.

The practice also identified other risks for mental health issues such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity.

On October 25 Ochre Medical Centre and psychologist Nic Sullivan held a free event on Mental Health in the Workplace for employers and employees.

Principal doctor Cathy Allen said it was an important issue because 45 per cent of Australians were expected to experience a mental health issue in their lifetime.

And more than 40 per cent of Australians with a mental health condition also have a chronic physical illness such as diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis or even arthritis.

Dr Allen said more than 11 million Australians are known to have at least one of eight known chronic diseases.

Research shows that rates of depression are four times higher among people with chronic pain and 50 per cent of diabetes patients experience depression or anxiety.

Diabetes is one of the country’s biggest health concerns with more than one million Australians diagnosed.

Last year, the suicide rate among young Australians reached a 10 year high, increasing by 32 per cent in just over a decade.

And the suicide rate in rural Australia is around 40 per cent higher than major cities. 

Dr Allen said it is important to be aware of some of the early warning signs of a mental health issue, which can very often be mistaken for something else.

“There are many signs of mental illness that are subtle and can easily go unnoticed,” she said.

“Wollongong residents shouldn’t be afraid to seek help in improving their mental health. Receiving treatment for a mental health issue can greatly improve a person’s overall quality of life, and make a lasting difference to their lifestyle, work and relationships”.

Eight early signs of mental health issues:

  1. Memory loss or a short attention span. Changes in cognitive behaviour can be a tell-tale sign of a mental health condition. If someone you know starts to experience frequent memory loss – such as forgetting appointments – this could be a sign of depression. Likewise, if they begin to have difficulty concentrating at work or school, thinking clearly and making decisions, it may be time for them to make an appointment with their local GP who may refer them to a psychologist.
  2. Weight gain or loss. Most people are aware that weight loss and a loss in appetite could be one symptom of a mental health issue – but it’s not well known that overeating and a lack of willingness to exercise could also be an early symptom of depression. In many cases, the weight gain itself is caused by depression, not the other way around.
  3. Irritability. Sadness is associated with depression and anxiety, but irritability in men can also point to a mental health issue. While everyone can be irritable at times, frequent or easily provoked irritability in men can be a sign of a deeper issue. If you’re noticing a lot of conflict at home especially, it might be time to talk to a mental health professional to see if something else is going on.
  4. Fauxcialising (or social withdrawal). If you have a friend that starts to cancel plans with you in favour of staying in (fauxcialising) or they become less willing to participate in social activities, it may indicate that something is up mentally. It’s worth making an extra effort to talk with any of your friends who exhibit this behaviour, as it could be a silent cry for help.
  5. Anhedonia. A lack of enjoyment in activities that once gave a person pleasure (anhedonia) is another subtle but common change we see in sufferers. It’s advisable to speak with your doctor if you start noticing these changes, as they can recommend a variety of treatment or lifestyle changes which can make a big difference, like trying yoga or meditation.
  6. Conflict in the workplace. Employees who instigate conflict in the workplace can be suffering from an underlying mental health issue. Businesses should work towards providing mental health support to employees, especially with regard to stress.
  7. Loss of productivity. The number one cause of reduced productivity at work is mental health, which costs the Australian economy more than $12 billion per year in lost work and has significant impacts on staff morale and organisational performance. There are simple techniques that a local psychologist can explain to you, to help employees cope and boost morale.
  8. Insomnia. Difficulty sleeping can also point to wider mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. It is estimated that 60-90 per cent of patients with depression have insomnia, with the cost of depression and anxiety attributed to sleep disorders thought to be more than $170.8 million.

The top 3 therapies trusted by psychologists to improve mental health:

  • Cognitive behaviour therapy. This treatment involves the use of practical self-help strategies, which are designed to teach patients to think in a positive way and reduce negative mood.
  • Acceptance commitment therapy. This therapy focuses on applying acceptance and mindfulness skills to uncontrollable experiences in order to increase psychological flexibility.
  • Mindfulness. A form of therapy centred on gaining awareness of the present moment through paying attention in a purposeful manner. It can be used to treat a range of mental health issues including depression and anxiety.