MORE than one in five people in the northern region will experience a mental health issue and everybody will be touched by mental illness in some way, but stigma still shrouds the issue.
Hunter New England Health rural mental health manager Judy Stephens said that was why Mental Health Month this October was important to raise awareness of such issues in the community and learn strategies to improve mental health.
Ms Stephens said there was often a negative perception surrounding those with mental illness because it was often portrayed as being associated with aggression and violence.
It was also not an illness that received a lot of funding or was prominent in the public eye, she said.
This has contributed to a lack of understanding and fear of mental illness.
In the northern region, more than half of people seen by mental health services have anxiety and depression.
Thirty-five per cent of those seen have a major mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
This is similar to the national prevalence of mental illness, but the factors behind the illness can be different in rural and regional areas to metropolitan.
Ms Stephens said some of the key causes of stress-related mental health issues were inducedby such factors as greater isolation, less access to mental health services, and rural adversities such as droughts and floods.
But technology is helping people in rural areas overcome their distance from services.
Ms Stephens said psychiatry clinics were provided to smaller towns through videoconferencing, and some of the smaller emergency departments could use the same technology to access a psychiatrist.
***** ONE of the concerns surrounding mental health is the lack of knowledge about the early warning signs of illness.
While mental illnesses manifested in different ways, Hunter New England Health rural mental health manager Judy Stephens said there were signs that someone could be developing a stress-related mental illness, among the more prevalent in the region.
When these were ignored or not understood, she said, it led to the illness becoming debilitating.
Ms Stephens said early signs included trouble sleeping,
pre-occupation with worries, and being negative about a lot of things.
Other signs of depression include a loss of interest in pleasurable activities, increased irritability and frustration, and increased alcohol or drug use.
If there are any concerns about depression or another mental illness, a doctor should be seen.