Story: Mental health services
Page 1 – Mental health and mental illness
Good mental health means a state of psychological wellbeing – a sense of self-worth and an ability to cope with life and fulfil human potential.
Mental health problems are psychological or emotional reactions that may lead temporarily to unusual behaviour but do not interrupt established routines and activities.
A mental illness or disorder is more serious and involves medically diagnosed conditions. Its symptoms may include hallucinations (a sense of something that does not exist), delusions (firm but false beliefs), highly inappropriate or violent behaviour, sadness, depression, anxiety, addiction or suicide attempts.
Types of mental illness
Mental illness includes mood disorders like bipolar, depressive or anxiety disorders, cognitive (reasoning) disorders, personality disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, eating disorders and substance-related disorders.
Rates of mental illness
Mental illness is extremely common. In any 12-month period, more than 20% of people in New Zealand are likely to experience some form of mental illness; and 47% of New Zealanders are likely to experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives. In 2002 New Zealand’s male suicide rate was the fourth highest among OECD countries, and its female rate was the fifth highest.
Increased risk of suicide is often linked with mental illness. Serious mental disorders and risk of suicide are most common among people who have few educational qualifications or low household incomes, and among Māori and Pacific peoples. Anxiety disorders, major depression and eating disorders are more common among women. Substance-use disorders (such as alcohol and drug addictions) are more common among men. Suicide risk is more common among females, younger people, urban dwellers and people with an existing mental disorder. People with experience of mental illness make up 35% of those on the sickness benefit, and 27% of those on the invalid’s benefit.
Beliefs about mental illness
In all eras and cultures people have explained mental health and illness in their own way. Mental illness has been explained in terms of supernatural, natural, biological or psychological causes. In pre-colonial times Māori held a supernatural view and distinguished between the insane (pōrangi, pōrewarewa, haurangi, pōtētē), demented (wairangi, karearea), the intellectually disabled (karakiraki, pororirori) and people who were possessed by spirits (apa, mate kikokiko).
In contemporary western society mental illness is believed to be influenced by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors.
Mental health and the law
Every year in New Zealand about 4,000 people are committed to treatment under compulsory-detention, assessment and treatment orders on the grounds of mental disorder. Balancing the liberty, safety and welfare of these individuals and their families, their caregivers and the public calls for complex medical and legal decisions.