When we think of health, many people will conjure images of bodies in peak condition, of athletes that can push their physical limits.

However, optimal health means being healthy inside and out – physically and mentally. Mental illness is slowly getting the attention it deserves, working to lift the stigma and promote conversations that can positively affect people’s lives. Mental illness affects both males and females from all walks of life and can have the ability to severely distress a person and disrupt their lives.

A brief insight

  • About 1 in 5 (20% of) Australians will experience a mental illness in any given year.
  • In a 12-month period, approximately 14% will suffer with an anxiety disorder.
  • Depression, anxiety and substance abuse are some of the most common mental illnesses and these often appear in combination, with individuals suffering with more than one disorder.
  • Typically, the onset of mental illness is between mid to late adolescence.
  • Women are more likely than men to seek treatment for their mental health issues.
  • 54% of individuals suffering with a mental illness do not seek treatment.

Getting help

With around 20% of Australians suffering with a mental illness and just over half of those individuals getting treatment, it’s clear that some further awareness and education is needed. Seeking treatment can be daunting and, for those who are unaware of the process and how to seek help, mental illness can feel quite isolating.

When getting treatment, individuals will often seek the guidance of a psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor. But what are the differences between the three and how can they help? This is what we will explore.


The role of the psychologist is to study human behaviour completing an undergraduate or postgraduate degree. An individual looking to become a psychologist will combine study with supervised experience. Usually, psychologists do not possess a medical degree, however they may have obtained post graduate qualifications at a doctoral level.

As well as psychologists, there are clinical psychologists, who have specialist training when it comes to psychological assessment and therapy for those with mental or psychiatric disorders. While clinical psychologists are more specialised, neither clinical or regular psychologists have the capacity to prescribe medication. Instead, their role is to offer treatments that change emotional responses and behaviours without the use of medication.


Unlike psychologists, psychiatrists are required to have a medical degree. This degree consists of studying general medicine for six years before specialising in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. They are trained to assess both the physical and mental facets of psychological conditions and may combine treatment methods with medication.


A counsellor who deals with mental health helps individuals and families to cope with difficult emotions and trauma associated with a mental disorder. A counsellor will use a range of techniques to coach and aid patients to manage stress and set positive goals. There are a range of counsellors out there, all with specific areas of focus (for example, marriage counselling, rehabilitation counselling and school counselling).

Where to go from here

The best professional to take care of your needs will depend on a number of factors, such as the type of mental illness you are experiencing, your age and the severity of the impact your mental illness is having on your everyday life.

No matter what mental illness you may be suffering, a great start would be to visit your local GP.  Your doctor will be able to discuss your concerns and symptoms with you in order to shed some light on what might be going on. In some cases, your GP will ask you to complete a questionnaire, which will help reveal how you may be feeling and how much of an impact your mental state is having on your day to day life. From there, you can get a referral to a mental health care professional.