Given that almost 50% of adults believe they have experienced a mental health problem in their life, it’s important to recognise the importance of looking after our mental health.
The statistics in the United Kingdom are pretty alarming. According to the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), one out of every six adults experiences mental health symptoms each week. Over their lifetime one in every five adults has considered taking their own life. So, exactly what do we mean by mental health? And, how do you know if you have a mental health problem or condition?
What is mental health?
When we talk about mental health, we are referring to emotional, cognitive and behavioural wellbeing. Mental health is all to do with how you feel, behave and think. Having good mental health means that you don’t have a mental disorder.
Having good mental health is not just about the absence of a mental disability or disorder, it’s also about looking after your happiness and wellness.
What causes poor mental health?
There is no defined list of causes of poor mental health. One person might be able to handle a traumatic event well, while another ends up having a mental health disorder. It’s impossible to list all of the factors that influence poor mental health, but there are some key risk factors that we should acknowledge.
Financial and social circumstances, lifestyle choices and genetics can all shape your mental health. Let’s take a look at some important factors.
Economic and social pressure
An important factor to the contribution of poor mental health are socioeconomic conditions (e.g. is work available), occupation, education, quality of housing, a person’s social involvement. These are also referred to as ‘modifiable factors’ as they change over time.
Often poor mental health runs in families and there are certain genetic variants that contribute to some people having a higher risk of developing a mental health condition. However, it’s worth noting that just because someone in your family has schizophrenia or depression, you are not guaranteed to develop the same condition. Also, just because nobody in your family has these conditions, it doesn’t mean you won’t develop them.
Mental health disorders like depression, anxiety and stress can develop because of physical health problems too like diabetes, chronic pain and cancer.
What different mental health conditions are there?
The most common types of mental health disorders are mood disorders, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia disorders.
Mood disorders are frequently referred to as depressive disorders.
- Major depression is when someone loses interest in events and activities that they used to enjoy. They experience a constant low mood and feel prolonged sadness.
- Bipolar disorder is when a person has unusual mood changes with periods of low mood and periods of mania.
- SAD (seasonal affective disorder) is when people feel depressed during the winter months when there is reduced daylight. As you would expect, this occurs most commonly in countries that are far away from the equator.
These are the most common mental illnesses. People with anxiety often experience physical and mental symptoms when they are in a certain situation.
- General anxiety disorder (GAD) is a condition whereby people worry in a way that disrupts their everyday life. This might also be accompanied by fatigue, restlessness, interrupted sleep and tense muscles.
- Panic disorder is a different type of anxiety that involves panic attacks and an overwhelming, sudden fear of imminent disaster or death.
- Phobias are a disorder that many people are aware of but don’t necessarily take seriously. There are simple phobias that involve intense and disproportionate fear of specific things, animals or scenarios. Social phobia is when a person restricts how much they expose themselves to social situations as they fear being judged. There are probably thousands of different phobias and for many people, they are a severe problem no matter how irrational it seems to others.
- OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) is a mental health condition associated with compulsions and obsessions. Many sufferers are compelled to perform repetitive rituals such as washing their hands.
- PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that occurs when a person witnesses or experiences something that is deeply traumatic or stressful. PTSD is associated with flashbacks.
Schizophrenia is complex. It typically develops in late adolescence and early adulthood. People with schizophrenia disorder have fragmented thoughts and will find it difficult to process things.
There are positive and negative symptoms. The positive symptoms are hallucinations, thought disorders and delusions. Negative symptoms include a flat mood, inappropriate mood, a lack of motivation and withdrawal.
How do you know if you have mental health problems?
There are many symptoms and signs of mental illness. These include:
- Feeling down or sad
- Poor concentration or confused thinking
- Extreme worries, fears or guilt
- Varying moods
- Lethargy, problems sleeping and low energy levels
- Hallucinations, paranoia or delusions (being detached from reality)
- Not being able to cope with day-to-day stress or problems
- Difficulty relating to others
- Problems with drugs or alcohol
- Significant changes in eating
- Changes to sex drive
- Excessive violence, hostility or anger
- Feeling suicidal
Sometimes it is possible that physical problems like headaches, back pain or stomach pain can cause depressive symptoms.
It’s important to see a GP if you have any of the above symptoms or you feel that something just isn’t right. If you feel suicidal or that you would be better off not here, call 999 or The Samaritans on 116 123.
Preventing Mental Illness
While there is no way to prevent mental health problems entirely, there are things you can do to increase resilience and boost your self-esteem.
Pay attention to the warning signs, don’t neglect doctor’s visits, seek help if you need it and make sure you eat healthily, exercise and get adequate sleep.