Mental health refers to our psychological wellbeing. The way in which we react and feel things in life is due to our mental health, and it is common for our mental health to deteriorate due to certain life events, or thoughts or feelings becoming increasingly difficult to cope with.• Around one in four people are affected by mental health problems every year
• Conditions range from common to rare problems
• Treated with a combination of medication and a type of talking therapy
If you are having problems with your mental health, or have been recently diagnosed with a condition and would like to know more, you can speak to one of our GMC-registered doctors via our live video doctor service.
There is more and more agreement amongst health professionals that mental health is as important as physical health. Everyone has worries and concerns as part of everyday life, but sometimes they can be overwhelming and an indication of a long-term condition.
What types of meantal health problems are there?
Depression, anxiety problems and phobias
Depression is one of the most common mental health problems, and refers to a feeling of low mood which affects everyday life. It may have a significant impact on physical health as well. It can range from mild in nature, where every now again, doing a particular activity can feel less enjoyable, to more severe, where suicidal thoughts may occupy us and become life-threatening.
Anxiety is a sense of worry about events which are about to happen in the near or distant future. It is normal to feel anxious about a particular situation now and again, but very strong feelings of anxiety can be debilitating and also have physical symptoms. In severe cases of anxiety, panic attacks can occur where the body enters fight or flight mode. Panic disorder is where someone has recurring panic attacks over a prolonged period of time.
Phobias are extreme forms of anxiety stemming from fears about particular situations, objects, or animals. For example, some people have phobias of insects such as spiders, while others may have anxieties relating to being outdoors.This is called agoraphobia.
Sometimes symptoms can be short-term or circumstantial. Seasonal affective disorder or SAD is a condition that people experience during winter months. It’s not clear what causes it, but shorter days and reduced exposure to sunlight are thought to be factors.
Eating disorders are attempts to control issues that you may be experiencing by eating in a certain way. The most common eating disorders are anorexia, bulimia and binge eating. People with eating disorders may use food as a tool to cope with emotional distress.
A personality disorder is a group of conditions where attitudes and behaviours cause problems in your life. It is a controversial diagnosis and many psychiatrists do not like the terminology as it can be deemed as sounding judgemental. Personality disorders can often make people with the condition seem detached and hostile towards others.
Schizophrenia is a condition which has changed dramatically in terms of the way it is understood. It is a mental illness where you sense things which are not real and have delusions and disordered thoughts. Symptoms can persist for a long period of time, but some people have short episodes which may last a week or so.
Bipolar disorder is a condition where mood goes through periods of two extremes - mania and depression. Episodes of depression make you feel very low, and episodes of mania can make you feel euphoric and energetic, but may also result in feelings of irritability and a reluctance to eat or sleep. There are two different types of bipolar disorder - type 1 refers to severe, mixed episodes whereas type 2 consists of periods of milder episodes of hypomania.
What symptoms do different mental health problems cause?
Mental health problems can cause both physical and psychological symptoms. Most mental health problems have symptoms which are related to depression or anxiety in some way. Depressive symptoms make a person feel worthless and incapable of partaking in certain activities. There can also be physical symptoms of depression such as tiredness, trouble sleeping, a loss of appetite and suicidal thoughts.
Suicidal thoughts can occur with many different mental health problems. They are frightening, and having the thought does not mean that the person necessarily intends to act on them. However, if they become a recurrent problem then it can help to seek help from the samaritans or by dialing 999 if they become uncontrollable.
Psychosis is another symptom which can occur with some of the more serious mental health problems. Hallucinations and delusions are the two thoughts which occur with psychosis. A hallucination may be connected to any of the senses, such as hearing voices or seeing visions which are not there. Paranoia and delusions of grandeur are common delusions. It does not necessarily have to be an uncomfortable experience; some people are comforted by psychotic symptoms, as it can help them to cope with the world better or be more creative.
Physical symptoms which can occur with mental health conditions are particularly common in cases of anxiety. Feeling anxious can cause the heart to beat faster, sweating and nausea, feeling tightness in the chest and shaky limbs.
Sometimes someone with a mental health problem can self-harm in order to cope with a particular feeling. It can be a way of expressing emotions that have become overwhelming.
How are mental health problems diagnosed?
In order for a doctor to diagnose a mental health problem, they are likely to ask a series of questions about your experiences relating to feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms. They will want to know how long you have been having a particular experience and what impact it is having on your life.
They will also look to establish what specific thoughts have entered your mind and how that has made you feel, and how you have acted upon these thoughts. For example, a description of lacking interest in things you would normally enjoy, and feeling low and lacking energy, would indicate that you may be suffering from depression.
After you have had a discussion with a doctor, they may ask you to complete an extensive questionnaire, which is focused towards their suspected diagnosis. It is also possible that they will ask you to monitor your feelings over a period of time, and report back to them with results. This is especially the case for a condition such as bipolar disorder, as the symptoms can vary dramatically from week to week.
What treatments are there for mental health problems?
There are two main treatment options for mental health problems - talking therapy and medication.
Talking therapy is the process by which you explain your thoughts and feelings to a medical professional such as a psychiatrist. This process may allow you to deal with feelings like stress and develop ways to face them in the future. It comprises many different techniques and approaches, depending on what the mental health condition is.
Cognitive behavioural therapy is the most commonly offered talking treatment and allows you to change behavioural patterns to help manage your thoughts and feelings. It is effective for many different mental health problems, but there are alternative methods if you find it is not suitable for you.
Medication prescribed for mental health problems will not cure the condition, but it may allow you to cope with it better. Some of the different types of medication include:
- Antidepressants - Come in many different forms and boost the production of serotonin, which elevates mood.
- Sleeping pills - Prescribed for severe anxiety and sedate the function of the brain and body.
- Mood stabilisers - Often prescribed for bipolar disorder. Lithium is one of the most commonly used.
- Antipsychotics - Prescribed for people who have severe psychotic experiences to help them manage the effects of delusions and paranoia.
Talking to a doctor about mental health online
If you have a mental health problem and you would like to speak to a doctor online, you can use our online video consultation service. One of our GMC-registered doctors will be able to offer you advice and let you know whether you need treatment. You can book an appointment at a time convenient for you.