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What is mental health?

Being mentally healthy is essential for overall wellbeing. Good mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. It’s about being able to deal with life’s challenges, maintain relationships, contribute to the community, and take pleasure and satisfaction from life.

“Mental health is a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to contribute to his or her community.”

World Health Organization

Life is full of ups and downs. Every day we experience minor hassles that can stress us, impact our mood or cause us minor anxiety. These can include time pressure, losing your keys, traffic jams, concerns about family and friends, job dissatisfaction, trouble relaxing, concern about gaining weight or worrying about the environment.

At some point we will also face more challenging life events – a relationship break-up, unemployment, serious sickness, or the death of a loved one. People with higher levels of mental health are better equipped to cope with these life stressors, as well as life’s smaller hassles.

People experience differing levels of mental health, just as they experience differing levels of physical health. But there are things we can do to protect and improve our mental health and wellbeing. These ‘protective behaviours’ are encouraged through the Act Belong Commit campaign.

Importantly, the term ‘social and emotional wellbeing’ is preferred by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as it reflects a more holistic view of mental health.

What is mental illness?

About one in five Australians experience some form of mental illness each year, and one in two will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives.

Australian Bureau of Statistics

Mental illness is a general term that refers to a group of illnesses or disorders diagnosed by a medical professional, that can significantly affect the way people think, feel and act, and particularly how they interact with other people. There are different types of mental illness, and they occur with varying degrees of severity. Examples include mood disorders (such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder), psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), eating disorders and personality disorders. Mental illness can affect physical health.

Episodes of mental illness may be short lived and resolve quickly or require longer treatment. You can have a mental illness and experience mental wellbeing. For most people, including those with a mental disorder, there are ways to promote mental wellbeing every day.

What influences and protects mental health and wellbeing?

Prevention is key. Engaging in activities that keep us mentally healthy, is the most effective way to improve individual and community mental health and wellbeing.

Being active, having a sense of belonging and having a purpose in life all contribute to good mental health and wellbeing, and builds stronger communities.

It can be so easy for us to take our mental health for granted and to prioritise other things. Grounded in trusted and known protective factors, the Act Belong Commit campaign message promotes the things you can do to protect and support your mental health and wellbeing.

The protective behaviours can include: visiting family; spending time in nature; participating in physical activity; getting together with friends or work mates; attending community events; joining a group; attending large public events; doing pleasurable activities that challenge you; engaging in religion and spirituality if that’s your thing; being involved in a cause that is meaningful to you; volunteering; doing activities that require thinking or concentration; talking or chatting with people outside your home (including online); and helping others.

The Act Belong Commit campaign encourages people to think about the types of protective behaviours that suit them and to incorporate them into their every day.

How do I keep mentally healthy?

For more detailed information on how you can act, belong and commit in your life, check out our tips on how to keep mentally healthy?