This year in Australia, three million people will experience anxiety or depression. Tens of thousands will attempt to take their lives. Thousands will end their lives. Others will have serious thoughts about doing so.

Why?

Why do some people experience mental health conditions while others in similar circumstances do not? Why do suicidal thoughts affect some but not others despite comparable life events? How much is about our genes and how much is about our experience? How much comes down to how the two interact? How much stress is too much stress and what determines who is overwhelmed and who is not?

There is no simple answer. Mental health conditions and suicide are complex and nuanced.

It’s acknowledged that some mental health issues, such as depression, exist on what you might call a continuum.

You can imagine it a little like a set of traffic lights.

At the green end, you’re functioning well; your mental health is at its best. When you slip into the amber, you’re perhaps not yourself or finding it hard to cope. If you hit the red, you’re in crisis.

Where we sit on this continuum changes day to day, even hour to hour. The point is, it’s not fixed, nor is it irreversible.

This idea is at the heart of the preventative messages Beyond Blue works hard to promote. If people understand how to spot the signs of mental ill-health early, they can change their behaviour to address these signs and hopefully head off more serious issues down the line.

Research about mental health issues is giving us ever-more insight into what’s behind these conditions.

While there is no simple answer, some things are clear.

It’s clear that sexual abuse in childhood can have serious long-term consequences on people’s mental health. Post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and substance abuse disorders are just some of the mental health issues associated with childhood sexual abuse. Such abuse is a noted risk factor for psychosis and schizophrenia.

Without childhood sexual abuse, mental health disorders would be reduced by 13 percent, according to some research. Other findings say mental health disorders are 2.4 times more common in those who experienced sexual abuse as children than those who did not. Suicide is far more common among those who have experienced childhood sexual abuse than those who have not.

Recovery and healing from child sexual abuse is complex and often long term, affecting all aspects of a person’s wellbeing. The Royal Commission in to child sexual abuse in institutional settings has helped some take the vital first steps on the journey of healing.  I know from my own discussions that for many going to the Royal Commission was their first experience of being heard, believed and valued.

When I was Prime Minister and decided with my colleagues to establish the Commission, I wanted the nation to acknowledge the harm done to children behind closed doors and veils of secrecy. I think the Royal Commission has enabled us to become a more knowing and caring society. It is tremendously important that a national apology is being given.

But the journey of healing must continue. While there can be no doubt the effects of abuse are far-reaching, support is available. There are resources available to those who need it. The important thing is to reach out and get support. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, you can contact 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or through their online chat.

Mental health experts are available 24/7 via the Beyond Blue Support Service 1300 22 4636 or for online chat here.

Related reading: We all have a role to play in preventing suicide

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