Each person is different and experiences their mental illness slightly differently

Often mental health problems are named to help professionals direct people to the right care and treatment.

Read about the different mental illnesses below which people can be ‘diagnosed’ with by a doctor.

>View videos about different mental illnesses and their symptoms, to help you learn about what your parent might experience.

  • People who experience an anxiety disorder often have strong feelings of fear and worry. They feel this much more intensely than the average person.
  • They might worry continuously about things that seem small to others or have fears that might stop them from doing normal, everyday things (like sleeping or going out in public)
  • When people start to avoid things that worry or frighten them it’s called a ‘phobia’.

View a short video about anxiety.

Read more about anxiety disorders.

  • Experiencing depression is very different to just feeling low or overwhelmed.
  • People who experience depression often feel very miserable, tired or exhausted for long periods of time. They often have no energy to do anything at all – sometimes even to get out of bed or to eat.
  • They might sleep all day and not want to do the things they once enjoyed. They might also feel stressed, grumpy or cry for no reason.
  • Mums can sometimes get depressed after having a baby (called ‘postnatal depression’) and it can make it hard to do ordinary things like take care of the baby or other kids.
  • They can’t just ‘snap out of it’ or make themselves feel better, no matter how hard they try.

View a short video about depression.

Read more about depression.

  • People who experience bipolar disorder (which used to be called ‘manic depression’) often have extreme moods.
  • They might sometimes feel very down and miserable. At other times they may feel energetic, over-excited and unable to calm down.
  • When they’re feeling over-energetic they might not sleep much, go on huge shopping sprees, cook or clean lots or be really talkative or have big ideas. They might also be stressed and only able to concentrate for a very short amount of time.

View a short video about bipolar disorder.

Read more about bipolar disorder.

  • People who experience psychosis (pronounced ‘sigh-koh-sis’) have difficulty thinking clearly and understanding reality.
  • As a person loses touch with reality, they might see or hear things that aren’t really there (hallucinations) or have unusual ideas that aren’t shared by other people (delusions). For example, they might believe that someone is trying to harm them or their family.
  • It can be really frightening for people who are unwell and for their children and families, especially if they don’t know that this is a form of illness.
  • If a person has had more than one episode of psychosis and other symptoms that last longer than six months, they may be described as experiencing schizophrenia (pronounced ‘skitz-o-free-nee-uh’).

View a short video about psychosis and schizophrenia.

Read more about psychosis and schizophrenia.

  • People who experience post traumatic stress disorder (also called PTSD) often get upset, scared or panicky, or over-react to very small things.
  • This is a type of anxiety disorder that is often caused by a traumatic event (like being in a serious accident, being physically abused or being in a war or a natural disaster, like a bushfire).
  • The very upsetting feelings from the trauma of these situations are often re-lived in disturbing flashbacks and nightmares and affect their ability to carry on in everyday life.

Read more about post traumatic stress disorder.

  • People who experience obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) might feel that they have to repeat things over and over again (like washing their hands or touching certain things).
  • They might be ‘obsessed’ with germs or keeping things in order and feel like they just can’t stop themselves from being this way.
  • They often feel that something terrible will happen to them or others if they don’t repeat these things.

Read more about OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder).

  • People who experience borderline personality disorder often have trouble with their emotions and relationships with other people.
  • They might struggle with confusing mood swings and an intense fear of losing people close to them and need constant comfort. They may have sudden explosive tempers or might even want to harm themselves. They may experience times when they feel scared and chaotic – an ‘out-of-control’ kind of feeling.
  • Sometimes people say it’s a bit like living your life on a ‘roller coaster’ but without the fun parts.
  • Their behaviour is often not understood and is usually the result of feeling scared, lonely and hopeless.

View a short video about personality disorders.

Read more about borderline personality disorder.

  • People experiencing eating disorders are often obsessed by thoughts about food and their body weight. This includes people who deliberately don’t eat much at all (anorexia nervosa), and people who ‘binge’ on lots of food in a very small time period and then make themselves vomit the food back up (bulimia) or overeat all the time (compulsive overeating).
  • A person with an eating disorder can put huge effort into hiding it and may be constantly dieting, making excuses not to eat, avoiding social situations where there’s food and exercising a lot.
  • They might spend a lot of time worrying about what they look like and feel depressed, anxious or irritated.

View a short video about eating disorders.

Read more about eating disorders.

So, what causes mental illness – how did my parent become unwell?

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For use by families where a parent has a mental illness, their supporters, and services who work with them.