Your mental health doesn’t always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life. We all have times when we feel down or stressed or frightened. Most of the time those feelings pass, but sometimes they develop into a more serious problem and that could happen to any one of us. Unfortunately, the stigma attached to mental health problems means that people feel uncomfortable about them and refrain from talking about them. Many people do not feel comfortable talking about their feelings.
Common mental health conditions
The feeling of being under too much mental or emotional pressure is referred to as ’stress’. Many of the day to day demands of life such as work, relationships, and money-matters can cause stress. Stress can affect how you feel, think, behave and how your body works. Common signs of stress include sleeping problems, sweating, loss of appetite and difficulty concentrating. People who are stressed may seem anxious, irritable, unreasonable, short-tempered, appear low in self-esteem, or have racing thoughts- worrying constantly over things in their head. You may also experience headaches, muscle tension or pain, or dizziness. Stress can cause serious illness if it is not addressed. Recognising the signs and symptoms of stress will help you figure out ways of coping and save you from adopting unhealthy coping methods, such as drinking or smoking. Spotting the early signs of stress will also help prevent it getting worse and potentially causing serious complications, such as high blood pressure.
There are many things you can do to manage stress more effectively, such as learning how to relax, taking regular exercise and adopting good time-management techniques. However, if you have tried self-help techniques and they aren’t working, you should go to see your GP.
If you’re not sure what’s causing your stress, keep a diary and make a note of stressful episodes for two-to-four weeks. Then review it to spot the triggers.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease that can range from mild to severe, and can include feelings of worry and fear. Everyone has feelings of anxiety at some point in their life.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
GAD is a long-term condition which causes you to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. People with GAD feel anxious most days and often struggle to remember the last time they felt relaxed. GAD can cause both psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. These vary from person to person, but can include feeling irritable or worried and having trouble concentrating or sleeping. Some people have only one or two symptoms, while others have many more. The symptoms of general anxiety disorder (GAD) often develop slowly and their severity varies from person to person.
You may have GAD if:
- Your worrying significantly affects your daily life, including your job and social life.
- Your worries are extremely stressful and upsetting.
- You worry about all sorts of things and have a tendency to think the worst.
- Your worrying is uncontrollable.
- You have felt worried nearly every day for at least six months.
Physical Symptoms of Anxiety
- drowsiness and tiredness
- pins and needles
- irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- muscle aches and tension
- dry mouth/excessive thirst
- excessive sweating
- shortness of breath
- stomach ache/diarrhoea
- frequent urinating
- painful or missed periods
- difficulty falling or staying asleep (insomnia)
Psychological Symptoms of Anxiety
- a sense of dread
- feeling constantly “on edge”
- difficulty concentrating
- being easily distracted
If you think you have GAD, but are not certain, please seek help from your GP. Your GP should discuss all your treatment options with you, and you can make an informed decision on the treatment most suited to you, taking into account your personal preferences and circumstances.
A panic attack occurs when your body experiences a rush of intense psychological (mental) and physical symptoms. Some people have panic attacks in response to specific situations. The number of panic attacks that you have will depend on the severity of your condition. Panic attacks can be very frightening and intense, but they are not dangerous. A panic attack will not cause you any physical harm and it is unlikely that you will be admitted to hospital if you have had a panic attack.
The symptoms of a panic attack (lasting for between 5 and 20 minutes) can be very frightening and distressing. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are unpleasant, and can be accompanied by thoughts of fear and terror sometimes creating a cycle of living in ‘fear of fear’. Very intense symptoms can make you feel like you are having a heart attack.
Sometimes your symptoms can feel so intense and out of your control that you may feel detached from the situation, your body and your surroundings. It can almost feel as if you are an observer, making the situation seem very unreal, confusing and disorientating. This is referred to as ‘de-personalisation’
Panic disorder refers to the occurrence of regular panic attacks, often for no apparent reason.
Talk to your GP! Your GP needs to gain a good understanding of your symptoms so that they can make the correct diagnosis and recommend the most appropriate treatment for your individual situation. It is therefore very important that you tell your GP about how you have been feeling and how your symptoms have affected you.
A phobia is more than a simple fear. It develops when a person begins to organize their life around avoiding the thing they are afraid of, whether it’s an animal, object, place or situation. Phobias affect different people in different ways. Some people only react with mild anxiety when confronted with the object of their fear, while others experience severe anxiety or have a severe panic attack. If the cause of your phobia is an object or animal that you do not come into contact with regularly, such as a snake, it is unlikely to affect your day-to-day life. There are many different phobias, which can be simple or complex.
Simple phobias are fears about specific objects, animals, situations or activities such as dogs, spiders, snakes, enclosed spaces, doctors, dentists, or flying. Some simple phobias, such as a fear of going to the dentist, usually start during early childhood, often between the ages of four and eight. Simple phobias often disappear on their own as the child gets older and usually do not cause problems in adulthood.
Complex phobias tend to be more disabling than simple phobias because they are often associated with a deep-rooted fear or anxiety about a particular circumstance or situation. Complex phobias usually start later in life and may continue for many years. Two common examples of complex phobias are agoraphobia and social phobia.
Agoraphobia is a fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult, or help wouldn’t be available if things go wrong. For example, a person with agoraphobia may be scared of traveling on public transport, visiting a shopping center and in the most severe cases leaving home. This phobia often begins in the late teens to early twenties.
Social phobia is a fear of social situations, such as weddings, or performing in social situations, such as public speaking. People with a social phobia have a fear of embarrassing themselves or of being humiliated in public. Social phobia often begins during puberty.
Almost all phobias can be successfully treated and cured. Treating simple phobias involves gradually becoming exposed to the trigger. This is known as de-sensitisation or self-exposure therapy.
Many people with phobias don’t seek out treatment, avoiding the object of their fear is enough. However, this may not always be possible; for example a fear of meeting new people. In this case it may be necessary to access professional support or gain advice in available treatment options.
Some people fear reaching out to their GP over phobias, however this is an important step in accessing the appropriate treatment and referrals. There are no quick fixes for phobias, and no one method of treatment; different strategies work for different people.
Everyone goes through spells of feeling up and down. However, when you are depressed you feel sad for extensive periods of time (weeks or months). Depression can happen to anyone and affects people of every age.
Depression is a real illness with real symptoms, and not a sign of weakness or something you can just “snap out of”. Sometimes, past experiences, life-changing events, such as bereavement, chronic illnesses, losing your job or even having a baby, can trigger an episode of depression. People with a family history of depression are also more likely to experience it themselves. But you can also become depressed for no obvious reason. Depression can also affect children. Studies have shown that about 4% of children aged five to 16 in the UK are affected by depression.
Depression affects people in different ways. Symptoms vary and include lasting feelings of sadness and hopelessness, loss of interest in the things you used to enjoy, feeling very tearful. People suffering from depression will often experience intense emotions of anxiety, hopelessness, negativity and helplessness, and the feelings stay with them instead of going away. Other physical symptoms include feeling constantly tired, poor concentration, sleeping badly, poor appetite or sex drive, and various aches and pains.in severe cases, afflicted people may experience thoughts of self-harm or even suicide.
Treatment for depression involves either medication or talking treatments, or a combination of the two. It is important to seek help from your GP if you think you may be depressed. The sooner you see a doctor, the sooner you can be on the way to recovery. Many people with depression benefit by making lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise, cutting down on alcohol and eating more healthily. Reading a self-help book or joining a support group is also beneficial.