Thankfully, we are hearing more and more in the news about mental health. While it will be some time before mental health is treated in parity with physical health, initial steps are being taken.
But as we become more used to seeing the topic of mental health in day-to-day discussion, you could be forgiven for wondering what a mental health condition is, and what it entails.
The first thing to mention is that everyone has mental health – just like they do physical health. Just as we would look after ourselves physically, we need to look after ourselves mentally.
But looking after ourselves is far from easy – after all, we can’t see our minds. If someone is in a positive state of mental health, they will typically be living their life the way they want to, have a positive mood, and generally be in a state of wellbeing.
Everyone has down days – even those that appear to be happy all of the time. This is perfectly normal though. But when these days become weeks, or you have more down days than up, then a problem has arisen.
Those that are in a negative state of mental health will often struggle to cope with life’s demands, have harmful thought patterns, see areas like work and relationships suffer, and at worst, have suicidal thoughts.
Therefore, a person with poor mental health will be in just as much pain as someone with a physical health complaint, only that poor mental health is invisible. Educating society on this fact is challenging, but possible.
Generally for a psychological disorder or mental health condition to be considered, there is a requirement for a person to be in a state of psychological distress, and for the person’s condition to impair them in multiple areas of their life e.g. work performance, relationships.
The terms “mental health condition”, “mental disorder”, “psychological disorder” and “mental illness” are all often used interchangeably – they generally mean the same thing. Throughout this site, we generally use the term “mental health condition”.
The Different Types of Mental Health Conditions
There are a huge range of different mental health conditions. Surely the two most well-known and common conditions are Depression and Anxiety.
Depression typically involves symptoms such as long periods of low mood, lack of energy or motivation and harmful thought patterns.
Whilst “anxiety” is a perfectly normal feeling, some people get to the point where their life becomes dominated by anxiety to the extent that they cannot live their day-to-day life as they would like to.
Aside from these two conditions, there are a range of other conditions. These include Bipolar Disorder, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Schizophrenia, Eating Disorders, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Personality Disorder’s, of which there are many different types.
There are lesser-known mental health conditions such as Dissociative Disorders, Schizoaffective Disorder, Substance-related disorders and Somatic Disorders.
Then there are sub-types within each major disorder. For instance, Anxiety can take many forms, such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder or Phobias. This is the same for each main disorder – there are specific types that can be diagnosed.
It is believed that around 1 in 4 people will be affected by mental health problems in any given year. Generally, the lesser known the condition is, the less people will suffer from them – but this isn’t always the case, but can be used as a rough guide.
Read Now: List of Mental Health Conditions [Construction]
Signs of a Mental Health Condition
Knowing about the signs of mental illness is very important, and something that in the future, will hopefully become a more prevalent area in education. As we mentioned earlier, mental health is invisible, so it can be difficult to spot.
But there are signs to look out for. For instance, if someone has Depression, they will usually have a low mood most of the time, might be tearful, or have very little motivation. Someone struggling with a past trauma might struggle to move on from the past, may daydream and have flashbacks to a traumatic event.
Most mental health conditions first arise during the period between later teenage years and early adulthood. With that said, a sizeable portion may develop in later adult years. Some conditions may even appear in childhood.
Symptoms of a Mental Health Condition
The symptoms of each mental health condition differs from disorder-to-disorder. We have a section dedicated to each of the conditions, which includes a list of symptoms generally associated with the condition. For more, follow this link [Construction].
As a general rule, emotional distress should be present. While symptoms are present for some people, they won’t find that it causes them emotional distress. For a person to be considered to have a mental health condition, their symptoms should cause distress, and have a negative affect on a person’s life.
As mentioned, the symptoms are different for each mental health condition. For instance, someone who has euphoric highs and deep depressive periods would meet the Bipolar Disorder diagnosis. Someone that suffers from delusions and hallucinations may meet the diagnosis criteria for Schizophrenia. But if a person only suffers from delusions and not hallucinations, they may have Delusional Disorder.
Simply put, each condition differs. Then there is the added complication that not everyone experiences the same symptoms. But we have got information on symptoms on each condition page, which is accessible here [construction].
What Causes a Mental Health Condition?
Another common question is what exactly causes mental health problems? Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Instead, it is believed that a huge range of factors can contribute towards a mental health condition developing.
The bio-psychological approach to mental health is often touted by professionals as being able to explain what causes a mental health condition. We do have an article on this model, though we explain it briefly here; this approach involves the combination of three areas:
- Biological Factors: Such as genetics
- Psychological Factors: Such as self-esteem
- Social/Environmental Factors: Such as relationships, school life.
The idea is that some of these factors, or combinations of these factors, may result in a mental health condition developing. Some events, such as a traumatic experience, would overlap across the factors. While somewhat basic, it does provide a solid argument.
Aside from this model, it is generally accepted that some events can trigger a mental health problem. Trauma at any age is a common trigger of a mental health condition. This is especially important in childhood, as any trauma experienced as a child can affect the mind – which is developing heavily at that age.
Childhood abuse, loneliness, bereavement, poverty/debt, substance abuse, unemployment and long-term physical health complaints are just some of the other potential triggers. More often than not, a range of these factors contribute towards the onset of a condition.
In terms of the science of the brain, it isn’t entirely clear what exactly happens or causes distress in the brain. Researchers have generally come to the conclusion that certain chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine may see their usual levels altered, which can lead to the development of mental health problems.
But as mentioned, there really is no set cause. It appears that a huge range of factors can contribute towards the onset of mental health problems. Each specific condition has different speculated causes, but generally, the above areas are present. Importantly, sometimes a mental health problem will arise with no cause apparent.
How is a Mental Health Condition Diagnosed?
It can be difficult to determine whether or not you have a mental health condition. But, if you have been having periods of low mood or emotional distress, it is worth seeing your GP as a starting point.
Generally, when an individual is diagnosed with a mental health condition, a professional will use a “checklist” criteria, where a patient needs to satisfy a certain amount of the criteria to be diagnosed with a condition.
These checklists are usually based on the criteria set out by one of the two major psychology bodies – the DSM or the ICD. The DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is published by the American Psychiatric Association. The ICD (International Classification of Diseases) is published by the World Health Organisation. The ICD is usually the system used in the United Kingdom.
Generally, a person will have suffered from the symptoms associated with the condition for at least a few weeks. If someone has a low bout of mood for four days, but are then fine the next day, this is not depression. A mental health condition is not something that just shows up out of nowhere and then goes away quickly.
A GP is able to diagnose more common conditions such as Depression and Anxiety. But this has caused controversy, with many questioning how such a diagnosis can be made in just a 10-15 minute consultation. Unfortunately, resources are very stretched. For more complex conditions such as a personality disorder or schizophrenia, a specialist will make the diagnosis after being referred to a service by their GP.
It is important to know that if you are struggling mentally, help is available. Many people will suffer in silence, or believe that it isn’t worth asking for help because no one can help them.
But ultimately, the diagnosis a person receives is merely a word. What is most important is accessing the correct treatment that can result in a healthier state of mental health.
How is a Mental Health Condition Treated?
Once a person has been diagnosed with a mental health condition, treatment can begin. As is a consistent theme throughout this article, the treatment that a person receives will be dependent on the condition they have, and the symptoms that they exhibit.
Mental health treatment is free on the NHS. Generally, there are two different forms of treatment; talking therapy and medication. The exact treatment that an individual gets will be dependent on the symptoms they have.
Talking therapy is seen as the best treatment in many different conditions. There are a huge range of different types of talking therapies available. The most common of these therapies are cognitive-behavioural therapy and interpersonal therapy.
It is important to note that only a limited amount of therapies are available on the NHS. For those who access private mental health treatment, they will have a free choice as to which therapy they want, albeit with the caveat of having to pay for this privilege.
Unfortunately, waiting times for treatment on the NHS can be long. Demand for these services outweigh the resources available significantly. However, if a person is in a state of acute distress, or has had a psychotic episode, they are typically seen within 24 hours. Like with physical health conditions, those that need emergency treatment are prioritised.
The other common area of treatment is medication. Psychiatric medication is only prescribed when it is needed, and it doesn’t always work. But for some, it can be a literal life-saver. There is a huge array of medications that can be prescribed. Once again, this is dependent on the condition or symptoms involved.
Antidepressants are the most common – and are used for conditions like depression and anxiety. Antipsychotics are the other major medication class used – they can be helpful in conditions like schizophrenia and schizoaffective disorder. There are multiple types of antidepressants and antipsychotics that can be used. Aside from these main two classes, mood stabilisers, benzodiazepines and analgesics (better known as painkillers) are among the other medicines used.
But as mentioned, medication doesn’t work for everyone. If a type of medication doesn’t work, then a patient can easily switch to another, which then might subsequently provide them with relief.
It is also important to state that alongside therapy and/or medication, lifestyle changes can be made that can prove helpful. Exercising, getting outside more, engaging in hobbies etc can all help. But we are aware that when you are feeling mentally unwell, that such tasks can seem very difficult.
In terms of accessing treatment, a GP will normally refer the patient to a relevant service for treatment. In mild mental health cases, a person will primarily be in contact with their GP. But for more complex or severe cases, the GP will normally refer an individual to the Community Mental Health Team.
What is the Prognosis for a Mental Health Condition?
Navigating through life with a mental health condition is difficult. But with the right treatment and support, many people will make a full recovery from their condition. At the very least, treatment can help a person attain a more comfortable standard of living, and find that their symptoms have a minimal impact on their daily life.
The aim is always for full recovery, and in some cases of Depression, Anxiety and Somatic Disorders among others, this is very achievable. But for those that have a lifelong condition – such as Bipolar Disorder – treatment can help the patient be able to lead a high-quality life, with the aim of controlling symptoms in a positive way.
What is the Mental Health Act?
The Mental Health Act is a piece of legislation that is designed to protect people that are at imminent risk of harming themselves or others. This Act is part of Great British Law.
The Act gives the Police the right to detain someone if they suspect they are at imminent risk to themselves or others – even if the person objects. This process is sometimes referred to as “sectioning”.
It is rare for the Mental Health Act to be used, and for the vast majority of people with mental health problems, it is something that won’t be relevant to them. But it is there for a reason – ultimately, the Police have a duty to protect, whether that is protecting the public, or a person from harming themselves.
On most occasions, those detained are released withn 24 hours, or within three days. Sometimes though, a person needs to remain in a mental health facility for longer periods of time. Healthcare professionals will determine whether or not a person is in the correct state of mind to be able to be released. We have more information on this in our Mental Health Act section [Construction].
This page has provided a general overview of the subject of mental health. Our website is devoted to the overall topic of mental health, and as a result, there is further detail on all of the above around the site.
Thank you for navigating onto our website, we hope that you can find whatever it is you’re looking for.
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. With the right support and treatment, you can make a recovery. For information on helplines, or if you are in a state of crisis, please visit our crisis page by clicking on the relevant link for your geographical location (United Kingdom), (United States), (International). You can also see how to get mental health treatment and the process involved by clicking this link.
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