Mental health problems – Introduction

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Mental Health Problems Booklet

What are mental health problems?

Some mental health problems are described using words that are in everyday use; for example, ‘depression’ or ‘anxiety’. This can make them seem easier to understand but can also mean people underestimate how serious they can be.

Mental ill health feels just as bad, or worse, than any other illness – only you cannot see it.

Although mental health problems are very common – affecting around one in four people in Britain – stigma and discrimination towards people with mental health problems is still very common and there are a lot of myths about what different diagnoses mean.

There is also a lot of controversy about the way mental health problems are diagnosed, what causes them and which treatments are most effective.

However, despite these challenges it is possible to recover from a mental health problem and live a productive and fulfilling life. It is important to remember that having a mental health problem is not a sign of weakness.

Never be ashamed of having bad days, weeks or even months – they show your inner strength, even if you can’t see it yourself at the time.

What are the most common mental health problems?

Some of the most commonly diagnosed forms of mental health problem are described below.

Depression

Depression lowers your mood and can make you feel hopeless, worthless, unmotivated and exhausted. It can affect sleep, appetite, libido and self-esteem. It can also interfere with daily activities and, sometimes, your physical health. This may set off a vicious cycle because the worse you feel, the more depressed you are likely to get. Depression can be experienced at different levels e.g. mild or severe, and can be related to certain experiences; for example, postnatal depression occurs after childbirth. Depression is often associated with anxiety. (See depression for more information.)

Anxiety

Anxiety can mean constant and unrealistic worry about any aspect of daily life. It may cause restlessness, sleeping problems and possibly physical symptoms; for example, an increased heartbeat, stomach upset, muscle tension or feeling shaky. If you are highly anxious you may also develop related problems such as panic attacks, a phobia or obsessive compulsive disorder. (See anxiety and panic attacks for more information.)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, ideas or urges that repeatedly appear in your mind; for example, thinking that you have been contaminated by dirt and germs or worrying that you haven’t turned off the oven. Compulsions are repetitive activities that you feel you have to do. This could be something like repeatedly checking a door to make sure it is locked or washing your hands a set number of times. (See obsessive-compulsive disorder for more information.)

Phobias

A fear becomes a phobia when you have an exaggerated or unrealistic sense of danger about a situation or object. You will often begin to organise your life around avoiding the thing that you fear. The symptoms of phobias are similar to anxiety and in severe forms you might experience panic attacks. (See phobias for more information.)

Bipolar disorder (formerly known as manic depression)

If you have bipolar disorder you will experience swings in mood. During ‘manic’ episodes, you are likely to display overactive excited behaviour. At other times, you may go through long periods of being very depressed. There are different types of bipolar disorder which depend on how often these swings in mood occur and how severe they are. (See bipolar disorder for more information.)

Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia is a controversial diagnosis. Symptoms may include confused or jumbled thoughts, hearing voices and seeing and believing things that other people don’t share. If you have these symptoms you might also become confused and withdrawn. There is debate about whether schizophrenia is actually one condition or more a collection of symptoms that are not clearly related. (See schizophrenia for more information.)

Personality disorders

Generally speaking, personality doesn’t change very much. Yet it does develop as people go through different experiences in life, and as their circumstances change. If you have a personality disorder, you are likely to find it more difficult to change your patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, and will have a more limited range of emotions, attitudes and behaviours with which to cope with everyday life. (See personality disorders for more information.)

Eating disorders

Eating disorders can be characterised by eating too much, or by eating too little. If you have an eating disorder you may deny yourself anything to eat, even when you are very hungry, or you may eat constantly, or binge. The subject of food, and how much you weigh, is likely to be on your mind all the time. Your eating disorder is likely to develop as a result of deeper issues in your life and is possibly a way of disguising emotional pain. Anorexia, bulimia, bingeing and compulsive eating are some of the most common eating disorders. (See eating problems for more information.)

 

Common behaviours

In addition to the more formal diagnoses above, there are some behaviours and feelings which are strongly associated with mental health problems.

Self-harm

Self-harm is a way of expressing very deep distress. You may not know why you self-harm, but it can be a means of communicating what you can’t put into words, or even into thoughts, and has been described as an ‘inner scream’. After self-harming, you may feel better able to cope with life again, for a while, but the cause of your distress is unlikely to have gone away. (See self-harm for more information.)

Suicidal thoughts

It is common to have suicidal thoughts if you are experiencing mental health problems – especially if you have a diagnosis of depression, borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia. The deeper your depression, the more likely it is that you will consider killing yourself. However, you can help yourself and you can get help from other people. A great many people think about suicide, but the majority do not go on to kill themselves. (Seehow to cope with suicidal feelings and how to help someone who is suicidal.)

Panic attacks

These are sudden, unexpected bouts of intense terror. If you experience an attack you may find it hard to breathe, and feel your heart beating hard. You may have a choking sensation, chest pain, begin to tremble or feel faint. It’s easy to mistake these for the signs of a heart attack or other serious medical problem. Panic attacks can occur at any time, and this is what distinguishes them from a natural response to real danger. (Seeanxiety and panic attacks and panic attacks-tips.)

 

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