Mental health

You need to look after your mental health as well as your physical health

It is important to look after your mental wellbeing as much as your physical health. In the same way that you keep physically healthy by the things you do, you can do positive things to maintain your mental wellbeing. You can accept and value yourself, maintain a healthy lifestyle and seek help when you are not well.

Mental health problems no longer attract the kind of stigma they once did. Most people make a complete recovery from periods of mental ill-health and, just as with physical ill-health, the sooner you seek help the sooner you will get better. Common mental health problems are anxiety, stress and depression. 

Mental health is how we think, feel and behave. A quarter of the British population will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives,. This can affect their daily life, relationships with others or their physical health. Mental health problems can affect anyone. Without support and treatment, these problems can have a serious effect on the sufferer and those around them. Every year in the UK, more than a quarter of a million people are admitted to psychiatric hospitals and over 4,000 people commit suicide.

Mental health disorders

Mental health disorders can take many different forms and affect people in various ways. Schizophrenia, depression and personality disorders are all types of mental health problem. Diseases such as dementia generally develop in old age, whereas eating disorders are more common in young people. There is no individual cause of mental health problems and the reasons they develop are complex.

Who is affected

Mental health problems are more common in certain groups, such as:
• people with poor living conditions
• people from ethnic minority groups
• disabled people
• homeless people
• offenders

People with mental health problems are sometimes discriminated against. This can lead to social problems such as homelessness, which often makes the mental health problem worse. Some problems are more common in certain people. For example, women are more likely than men to have anxiety disorders and depression. Drug and alcohol addictions are more common in men, and men are also more likely to commit suicide. Mental health problems can develop as a result of difficult or stressful life events, such as moving house, losing a job or the death of someone close. Drinking too much alcohol and using illegal drugs can contribute to mental health problems.

Treatment and support

People with mental illness need help and support to cope with their issues. There are many treatments, including medication, counselling, psychotherapy and self help. It is important that people with mental illnesses are informed of the options available so they can decide which treatment suits them best.. An important step in the recovery process is for the person to accept that they are ill and to want to get better. This can take time, and it is important for family and friends to be supportive. Many support groups and charities offer advice, confidential counselling and information about the types of treatment available and where to get help.


If you look after someone who is ill or disabled, your own mental health can be affected. An official report on the mental health of carers found that more than half of all carers reported symptoms of mental health issues, such as stress or depression. This is higher than in the general population.

What is mental health?

How we think and feel about ourselves affects how we behave and cope with the challenges of life. It affects the ability to make the most of opportunities that come our way and play a full part in our families, workplace, community and among friends. It’s also closely linked with physical health. Whether we call it well-being, emotional welfare or mental health, it’s key to living a fulfilling life.

Mental health is sometimes called ‘emotional health’ or ‘well-being’ and it’s equally as important as good physical health. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or frightened. Usually those feelings pass. But sometimes they develop into a more serious problem. Everyone is different. Some may bounce back from a setback while others may feel weighed down by it for a long time. Our mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as we move through different stages of our lives. There’s often a stigma attached to mental health problems making people feel uncomfortable about them. Many people don’t feel comfortable talking about their feelings, however it’s healthy to know and say how you’re feeling.

What are mental health problems?

Mental health problems range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can get over them or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on. Mental health problems are usually defined and classified to enable professionals to refer people for appropriate care and treatment. But some diagnoses are controversial and there is much concern in the mental health field that people are too often treated according to or described by their label. This can have a profound effect on their quality of life. However, diagnoses remain the most usual way of dividing and classifying symptoms into groups. Most mental health symptoms have traditionally been divided into groups called either ‘neurotic’ or ‘psychotic’ symptoms. ‘Neurotic’ covers those symptoms which can be regarded as severe forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety or panic. Conditions formerly referred to as ‘neuroses’ are now more frequently called ‘common mental health problems. Less common are ‘psychotic’ symptoms, which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, and may include hallucinations such as seeing, hearing, smelling or feeling things that others can't. Mental health problems affect the way you think, feel and behave. They are problems that can be diagnosed by a doctor and are not personal weaknesses. Mental health problems are very common. About a quarter of the population experience some kind of mental health problem in any one year.

Anxiety and depression are the most common problems, with around one in ten people affected at any one time. Anxiety and depression can be severe and long-lasting and have a big impact on people’s ability to get on with life.
Between one and two in every 100 people experience a severe mental illness, such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia, and have periods when they lose touch with reality. People affected may hear voices, see things no one else sees, hold unusual or irrational beliefs, feel unrealistically powerful, or read particular meanings into everyday events. Although certain symptoms are common in specific mental health problems, no two people behave in exactly the same way when they are unwell. Many people who live with a mental health problem or are developing one try to keep their feelings hidden because they are afraid of other people’s reactions. And many people feel troubled without having a diagnosed, or diagnosable, mental health problem - although that doesn’t mean they aren’t struggling to cope with daily life.

What is good mental health?

Good mental health is not simply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems, although good mental health is likely to help protect against development of many such problems. Good mental health is characterised by a person’s ability to fulfil a number of key functions and activities, including:
• The ability to learn
• The ability to feel, express and manage a range of positive and negative emotions
• The ability to form and maintain good relationships with others
• The ability to cope with and manage change and uncertainty

How can we help ourselves?

You can help keep yourself in good mental health by:
• Talking about your feelings
• Keeping active
• Eating well
• Drinking sensibly
• Keeping in touch with friends and loved ones
• Asking for help when you need it
• Taking a break
• Doing something you’re good at and enjoy
• Accepting who you are
• Caring for others

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