A pathway to a healthier you

Mental health – pay attention to it and the risks

Mental health: a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realise their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.
World Health Organisation

Mental health is a key component of overall health, which means that we should pay attention to it and the risk factors. 

As health professionals we know our mental, physical and spiritual health are linked. And that our mental health is vital to our wellbeing and quality of life. Yet we may be surprised when we experience a mental health disorder. 

For many nurses, midwives and students the fast paced, unpredictable nature of our work and study, the risks associated with caring for people with complex conditions, work stressors, chaotic work environments and poor sleep and nutrition may make us vulnerable to a mental health disorder. 

Not alone – national statistics

The Black Dog Institute report that 1 in 5 of us will experience symptoms of mental illness in any given year. In Australia that’s around 5 million people. And roughly 60% of these people won’t seek help.

Signs and symptoms of mental disorder

A mental disorder is a significant disturbance in your cognition, emotional regulation, or behaviour. It may include but is not limited to anxiety, depression, affective and substance use disorders. 

You may be negatively affected by symptoms of a mental health disorder without necessarily meeting the criteria for a mental disorder. Mental health affects and is affected by multiple socioeconomic factors, including your access to services, living conditions, financial situation and employment status, and may also affect your family, friends and colleagues and your ability to work and enjoy life. 

Understand factors that can protect your mental health

Pay attention to these, set goals and create a mental health plan. Protective factors include: 

  • Emotional awareness – pay attention to your mood, thoughts and feelings
  • Community and social support and connectedness 
  • Healthy habits – sleep, diet, exercise and a mindfulness practice. 
  • Work achievement and job satisfaction
  • Physical and psychological safety
  • Access to support services
  • Financial security
  • Stable and safe housing

When you’re not ok

Seek help. Speak to a nurse or midwife who understands. 

Strategies to protect your mental health

Put protective factors into place in your life – try these strategies:

  • Spend time on self-reflection and checking in-Am I OK? 
  • Develop self-soothing habits. 
  • Join a local community group, sports club, gym, choir, dance group
  • Nurture friendships and positive relationships. 
  • Understand your sleep 
  • Move more often and deliberately
  • Think about what you eat 
  • Develop a mindfulness practice 
  • Celebrate your work achievements
  • Pace and manage your career
  • Find a mentor or clinical supervisor
  • Set boundaries
  • Avoid awkward scenarios
  • Remove yourself from toxic situations
  • Call out unsafe behaviours
  • Help make your workplace psychologically safe
  • Add a support service phone number to your contacts 
  • Use the services that are available to you
  • Set a budget, create financial goals
  • Pay attention to your superannuation 
  • Make a housing plan
  • Create a safe living plan

Discover the risk factors for mental illness 

Researchers are still trying to understand what causes mental illness. There is not one cause; often it is a complex mix of factors. These can include genetics and aspects of social learning, such as how you grew up. 

It can also be impacted by how your brain works and the interplay with your environment. Your social group, your culture and life experience can also play a part in the development of a mental illness. 

Genetic factors

Mental illness in the family can increase the chance that you might get a mental illness (but it is not a given).

Drug and alcohol abuse 

Illicit drug use can trigger a manic episode bipolar disorder or an episode of psychosis. Drugs such as cocaine, marijuana and amphetamines can cause paranoia. 

Biological factors 

Some medical conditions or hormonal changes can cause mental health problems. 

Early life environment

Negative childhood experiences can increase the risk of some mental illnesses, such as abuse or neglect. 

Trauma and stress

In adulthood, traumatic life events or ongoing stress can increase the risk of mental illness. Social isolation, family violence, relationship breakdown, financial or work problems can affect your mental health. 

Traumatic experiences such as work related moral injury, occupational violence, living and/or working in a war zone can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 

Personality factors

Some traits such as perfectionism or low self-esteem can increase the risk of depression or anxiety. 

Assess your mental health now 

Check your levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. Use the free anonymous online This Way Up Take-a-Test Tool.  

Ask your GP if you are eligible for a Federal Government subsidised mental health plan and services

Services available to you

Some mental health services, programs and resources we recommend include: 


This Way Up have 18 tailored programs for a range of mental health conditions. Their online programs are available without a need for an assessment or a referral, making it easier for you to access quality mental health self-help. 

GPs, psychologists, and other mental health professionals access use their programs to treat their patients, which means you can complete a program with the help of your own clinician. 

THIS WAY UP is run by clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, researchers, and web technicians based at the Clinical Research Unit for Anxiety and Depression (CRUfAD) – a joint facility of St Vincent’s Hospital and the University of New South Wales. 

Beyond Blue 

Beyond Blue offers a mental health support line, programs and resources to support your mental health.  

Their national free telephone and online counselling service is open 24/7:

Beyond Blue state they are a big blue door for many in the community: a safe and reliable place for millions of people – whether they’re well and want to stay that way, unsettled or struggling and need support, or in recovery and want to reconnect. 

Black Dog Institute 

Black Dog Institute offers evidence-based training and webinars for health professionals looking to expand their knowledge and skills in the area of mental health. 

They offer  health professionals resources, online programs, and digital tools to assist in the management of mental health conditions in your clinical work. 

First person – stories and experiences of others

Hearing experiences of others living and working with a mental health issue or illness and the value of support, treatment and care may assist you to take the first step. 

Informing Aphra of your mental health disorder

Many nurses, midwives and students experience mental health challenges, some of them sensitive, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorder. 

Some sensitive health issues do need to be reported to the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) , the regulator of our professions. We recommend you inform them of your mental health disorder. If it comes to the attention of your colleagues, they are required to make a mandatory notification.

Find out more Aphra: mandatory notifications

The WHO tells us that mental health is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. 

Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development. 

Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders. It is experienced differently from one person to the next, with varying degrees of difficulty and distress and potentially very different social and clinical outcomes. 

Mental health conditions include mental disorders and psychosocial disabilities as well as other mental states associated with significant distress, impairment in functioning, or risk of self-harm. People with mental health conditions are more likely to experience lower levels of mental well-being, but this is not always or necessarily the case.” 

World Health Organisation: mental health

In Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020-2022 data:

  • 42.9% of people aged 16–85 years had experienced a mental disorder at some time in their life 
  • 21.5% of people had a 12-month mental disorder, with anxiety being the most common group
  • 38.8% of people aged 16–24 years had a 12-month mental disorder 

ABS mental health and wellbeing national study 2020-22

Mental illness is something that only 2% or 3% of the population has. These are in the DSM–5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
Sarah Russell Mental Health Advocate