Mental Health

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as, ̳a state of well-being in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community‘ (WHO 2001). Mental Health is more than merely the lack of mental illness and everyone has mental health needs. Mental health can affect how individuals think and feel about themselves and others, and how they interpret different events. Mental health also has a strong impact upon an individual‘s physical health because the way that we think and feel has a large influence upon our physical health.

Mental Illnesses

 “Mental illness” is a term used to describe the most severe cases of  any mental disorder, for example severe cases of depressive illness, psychotic disorders and severe cases of Anorexia Nervosa.When someone experiences severe and/ or enduring mental health problems, they are sometimes described as ‘mentally ill or to have a mental illness’, but there are difficulties with this term.

They include:

  • It is sometimes difficult to decide what is normal behaviour and behaviour associated with mental illness.
  • The label ‘mental illness’ is highly stigmatising.
  • The term ‘mental illness’ can misleadingly imply that all mental health problems are solely caused by medical or biological factors.
  • Maintaining good mental health, as with maintaining good physical health requires positive action – many factors can positively or negatively affect it.

Mental Illnesses – Fact versus Myth    

Example 1

Myth – People diagnosed with a personality disorder are all violent psychopaths or potential killers.

Fact – The phrase personality disorders covers a wide range of attitudes and behaviours, many of which present no risk to anyone.

Example 2

Myth – ‘psycho’ and ‘madman’ are acceptable everyday images or references; jokes about ‘nutcases’ and ‘basket cases’ are humorous and not offensive.

Fact – bad press makes people with mental health problems feel bad about themselves and reinforces stigma. A lot of the problem is the use of words such as ‘maniac’ or ‘madman’ in connection with violence e.g. ‘maniac went for woman with knife‘ when what they mean is ‘violent person’ – nothing to do with mental illness.

Example 3

Myth – schizophrenia is someone with a split personality.

Fact – the popular myth about schizophrenia that you have a ‘split personality’ and swing between being calm and out of control is just a myth. Schizophrenia is a diagnosis given on the basis of a range of symptoms which may include thought disruption, hallucinations/ delusions and social withdrawal.

Example 4

Myth – People with severe mental illness cannot lead full and active lives.

Fact – Many people who have been given a diagnosis of severe mental illness do recover and work successfully and bring up families. What prevents them doing so is the stigma and discrimination they face.


What is therapy/counselling?

Lots of kids have problems that affect how they feel, think, or act. Therapy is a way to get help with these problems. If you go to therapy, you’ll meet with a therapist to talk and learn. Therapy helps kids learn to cope better, communicate better, and do better. It’s a safe space where you can freely discuss your problems without the fear of being judged.

What Problems Do Therapists Help With?

Therapists are trained to help kids with all kinds of problems. They help kids going through tough times like:

  • Family related problems
  • School related problems
  • Bullying
  • Health problems

They help kids with feelings like:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Stress and worry
  • Low self-esteem
  • Grief

Anxiety, Panic Disorder and Phobia

  • 1 in 10 people will experience anxiety or a phobia at some point in their lives.

        S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S

  • Feeling worried all the time
  • Unable to concentrate
  • Feeling tired
  • Sleeping badly
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Aching muscles and pain
  • Heavy breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Indigestion
  • Diarrhoea
  • Research suggests that anxiety can be due to genes, or could be       down to the person‘s situation e.g. pressure or on-going worry about a problem.

P A N I C  A T T A C K S

  • A panic attack is sudden onset of intense fear and worry.


  • A person with a phobia has intense symptoms of anxiety that will happen from time to time when confronted with something that frightens them. Examples of phobias include fear of open space, heights. Sufferers may feel silly about their fear/phobia as they know there is no real worry but they are still unable to control it.


  • Talking about the problem to friends or family can be beneficial.
  • Finding ways to relax can help control anxiety and tension.
  • Everything from books to seeking professional help.
  • Medication can help. 41

Bipolar Disorder (Manic Depression)

  • Bipolar Disorder and Manic Depression refer to the same mental health problem.
  • 1.3% of the population will develop Bipolar Disorder over a lifetime.
  • Diagnosis is often difficult as symptoms are complicated, proper treatment is often delayed for up to a decade following first symptoms.
  • Between 10-20% of people with bipolar disorder will take their own life, and up to a third will make a suicide attempt.
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • Involves extreme mood swings (highs and lows). It can often happen when work, studies, family or emotional pressures are at their greatest.
  • The first episode of being unwell usually happens in adolescence as hormonal changes or major life changes (like leaving home) can trigger the condition.
  • Severe and/or untreated episodes of bipolar disorder or manic depression can be very damaging for the person and their relationships, often having an effect on employment, family and social relationships.
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S
  • Can often occur in phases, often with long periods with no problem in between.
  • Some people only have one serious period of being unwell in their life time.
  • Mania is a term used for periods of great elation. A person‘s mind will race, they may talk very quickly, be full of energy, not sleep much, or the extreme, begin to believe they have special powers or abilities.
  • People are prone to excesses of spending money, extreme religious beliefs or taking risks.
  • It is possible to have mixed episodes, where people experience elements of both mania and depression.
  • Early diagnosis and treatment is important to recovery. Becoming aware of one‘s own symptoms, trying to avoid triggering situations, and keeping a mood diary can help.


  • Depression serious enough to need treatment. Most people with depression can get on with their lives.
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • Everyone can feel sad or blue when bad things happen but this is not depression. People who have the blues may have a short-term depressed mood, but they can manage to cope and soon recover without treatment.
  • Significant life events can trigger periods of depression for example exam or work stress, family turmoil, or concerns around identity are all things that can be triggers.
  • Hormonal changes, such as around adolescence, can also contribute to depression.
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S

Three symptoms are important indicators of depression. At least one of these must be present for most of the time for at least two weeks:

  • Persistent sadness or low mood. Loss of interest or pleasure. Fatigue or low energy.

Other associated symptoms may also be present :-

  • Disturbed sleep.
  • Poor concentration or being indecisive. Low self confidence.
  • Poor or increased appetite.
  • Suicidal thoughts or acts.
  • Agitation or slowing of movements. Guilt or self blame.

Not every person who is depressed has all these symptoms. People who are more severely depressed will have more symptoms than those who are mildly depressed.

  • There are many treatments for depression, from medication to complementary therapies to talking treatments. Often a combination of things works at different times.
  • People may go to their GP who may prescribe some medication, recommend self help books or exercise or refer to a counsellor.
  • Friends and family can be a very important source of support for a person who is depressed. People who feel supported by those around them recover faster.

Eating Disorders

  • Anyone can develop an eating disorder, although it is most likely happen in young women aged 15-25
  • Almost 70 million people in the world are affected by an eating disorder
W H A T  I S I T ?

The term eating disorder covers a wide range of problems with food, including starving (anorexia), and bingeing and purging (bulimia) and binge eating. The reasons and causes are varied and complex. Eating disorders are often but not always associated with negative body image and low self esteem. It can also be an attempt to regain control when the person has been in a situation where their control has been taken from them.

Anorexia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa

Have a fear of gaining weight, they feel fat even when they have lost so much weight that it becomes obvious to others.

They may look overweight or underweight and it is often difficult to detect. They have great difficulty controlling their eating sometimes eating strictly or giving in to periods of bingeing.

They often hide food; follow complicated plans to avoid food and to appear heavier than they are.

The food they often eat is often high in calories, fat or carbohydrate. As a person begins to feel full feelings of shame and guilt can overwhelm them. It is those feelings that trigger the need to purge.

Some may pretend to have eaten when they have not.

Continuous bingeing and vomiting can do serious harm to the body. Regular use of laxatives can lead to bowel disease and lack of essential minerals can result in organ failure and death.

They may exercise vigorously, use laxatives or make themselves sick in order to lose more weight.


They may starve themselves by only eating tiny quantities of food.


A girl‘s period may stop or never start.

  • Eating disorders develop relatively slowly, with the behaviours involved becoming more complicated. It is important to get support as soon as possible.
  • Treatment can include care in hospital, treatment from dieticians, self help. Support from friends and family is very important.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

  • OCD typically begins to affect people in adolescence or in their early 20s. However at least half of adults who get help for OCD already had it as a child.
  • OCD is thought to affect around 1-2% of the population and it affects men and women equally.6
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • OCD is an anxiety disorder in which people experience repetitive and upsetting thoughts and/or behaviours, usually both. OCD has two main features – obsessions and compulsions.
  • Obsessions are involuntary thoughts, images or impulses. An example would be a fear of germs or an irrational concern with order such as putting things away in a specific order.
  • Compulsions are repetitive and stereotyped actions that the person feels forced to perform.
  • People are aware that their obsession and compulsions are irrational and excessive, but nonetheless still feel unable to control them.
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S
  • Most obsessive thoughts are about fear of contamination or harm to yourself or others and hypochondria.
  • Common compulsions include the need to wash, check and count and so on.
  • Most people have OC behaviours when anxious e.g. students at exams lining up their pencils in a certain way. It only becomes a disorder when it interferes with your daily life.
  • OCD often goes undiagnosed as people feel embarrassed to reveal their symptoms. It can also be misdiagnosed as depression which is often an outcome of OCD.
  • Treatment can include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and antidepressants. Recovering form OCD can take a long time and be a difficult process.
  • However, most people do recover and many people manage their obsessions and compulsions and are successful in personal, family and professional lives.

Personality Disorder

  • About 40-70% of people on a psychiatric ward will have a personality disorder.
  • 30-40% of psychiatric patients being treated in the community by a psychiatric service will have a personality disorder.
  • Around 10-30% of patients who see their GP will have a personality disorder.
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • By our late teens, or early 20s, most of us have developed our own personality with our own distinctive ways of thinking, feeling and behaving. It remains pretty much the same for the rest of our life. Usually, our personality allows us to get on reasonably well, if not perfectly, with other people.
  • However, for some people, this doesn’t happen. Their personality may develop in a way that can be difficult to learn from experience and to change those traits – the unhelpful ways of thinking, feeling and behaving – that cause the problems.
  • It is not clear what causes a personality disorder, but it seems that like other mental disorders, genes, brain problems and upbringing can play a part.
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S
  • Difficulty in making or keeping relationships. Getting on with people at work. Getting on with friends and family. Keeping out of trouble.
  • Difficulty in controlling your feelings or behaviours.
  • Treatment for people with personality disorders can be psychological (talking therapies) and/or physical (medication).
  • If you have a personality disorder, you may not need treatment at all –but you might find medication or talking treatments helpful, and sometimes both.
  • Admission to hospital usually happens only as a last resort (e.g. when a person with borderline personality disorder is harming themselves badly).

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  • PTSD is a common condition that can affect anyone. It affects around 5% of men and 10% of women some time in their life. It can happen at any age, including in childhood.
  • Approximately 40% of people with PTSD develop the condition as a result of someone close to them suddenly dying.
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • In our everyday lives, any of us can have an experience that is overwhelming, frightening, and beyond our control. We could find ourselves in a car crash, the victim of an assault, or see an accident. Police, fire brigade or ambulance workers are more likely to have such experiences – they often have to deal with horrifying scenes. Soldiers may be shot or blown up, and see friends killed or injured.
  • Most people, in time, get over experiences like this without needing help. In some people though, traumatic experiences set off a reaction that can last for many months or years. This is called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S
  • The symptoms of PTSD usually appear within 6 months of a traumatic event. Re-experiencing the trauma: recurrent dreams of the event, flashbacks and intrusive memories.
  • Unrest in situations which bring back memories of trauma
  • Avoidance behaviour, such as persistent avoidance of things associated with the event.
  • Emotional numbing. This may continue for months or years
  • Reduced interest in others and the outside world.
  • Constant watchfulness, irritability, jumpiness/ being easily startled, outburst of rage, insomnia.
  • When you have PTSD, dealing with the past can be hard. Instead of telling others how you feel, you may keep your feelings bottled up. But treatment can help.
  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is one type of counselling which appears to be most effective for PTSD. Medication can also be effective. This should be discussed with a GP.

ad to women experiencing feelings of guilt and isolation. This can prevent people from seeking help.


  • Nearly 1 in 100 people will experience schizophrenia in the course of a lifetime.
  • After a first episode of schizophrenia, approx 1 in 5 recover in 5 years, 65% will have varied problems in 10 years and 10-15% will experience lifelong illness.
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • Schizophrenia is nothing to do with spilt personality. It affects thinking,feeling and behaviour.
  • It can affect people from all walks of life. The first symptoms often develop in early adulthood and vary from person to person, but may remain undiagnosed.
  • For some, the illness may start suddenly. The person may become unwell very quickly and very severely. Their thoughts may become muddled or they may experience hallucinations. For others, the change may happen gradually.
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S
  • Hallucinations – hearing, seeing, feeling, smelling or tastingsomething that doesn‘t exist, as if it were real. Hearing voices is themost common hallucination experienced.
  • Delusions – holding false and often unusual beliefs with unshakeable conviction. For example, someone might fear that they are being watched or followed.
  • The person appears to show little emotion or when they do it may appear out of context e.g. crying at a joke.
  • They may say very little and rarely start a conversation. They may speak in a way that will seem muddled and illogical, with little meaning.
  • They may think or act in a way that cannot be easily understood.
  • Generally, the sooner help is sought the greater the chance of recovery.
  • Medication is commonly used and with good relationships with supportteams, most people feel like they have had their lives back.
  • At times some people with schizophrenia may require hospital care.

Self Harm

  • Over 7,000 people are treated in hospital each year following episodes of non-fatal deliberate self harm. The majority of these will have taken an overdose.
  • 1 in 15 young people have self harmed.9
W H A T  I S I T ?
  • Self harm describes a ―wide range of things that people do to themselves in a deliberate and usually hidden way, which are damaging
  • Because of the complex feelings involved, people often keep self-harm well hidden from friends and family and they may go to great lengths to avoid showing the area of the body that they harm.
  • Whilst self-harm is damaging and may be dangerous, for many people it provides a method of coping with life. It is important to remember the level of distress that has led to the self-harm.
  • Taking away the person‘s means of self harm can increase the emotional distress and make the situation worse.
S I G N S  A N D S Y M P T O M S
  • It includes cutting, burning, scalding, banging heads and other body parts against walls, hair pulling, biting, swallowing or inserting objects as well as self poisoning.
  • It is a sign of emotional distress that something is seriously wrong.
  • Self harm is a deeply personal thing and individuals are likely to have a preferred method and part of the body to self harm.
  • Giving up self harm can be a long and difficult process. A person can‘t just stop doing it overnight.
  • Some people use self help groups or on-line support communities, others may go to a counselor or seek therapy.
  • They can build coping mechanisms to replace self harm and address the feelings that led to the self harming.
  • Sometimes medication might be used to treat depression or another mental health problem that may be present.