Mental Health Awareness
“There is no health without mental health” - World Health Organisation
The NHS has a goal to put mental health on the same footing as physical health. Education around mental health is an important step towards this.
According to recent studies, 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children experience mental health illness.
Mental health and mental illness can both be influenced by a variety of factors including genetic, societal and circumstantial. Because of this, it can be hard to manage and keep on top of. But with the right education, it’s not impossible.
Before you read on, remember when looking at facts about mental health, we are all unique individuals living our own lives. This means that issues with our mental health can present differently. The most important thing is finding out what good mental health means to you.
Mental Health vs Mental Illness
Even though mental health and mental illness are used interchangeably, they are different.
Mental Health - According to the Samaritans, it is defined as “the social, psychological and emotional wellbeing of individuals”
Mental Illness (Also known as mental health disorder or psychiatric disorder) - Illness or disorder that affects how you feel, think, act or interact with others.
In the same way that you can feel under the weather, you can have poor mental health without having a mental illness. Similarly, in the same way that you can have a disease where you can go about your day-to-day life as per usual, you can sometimes do the same with mental illness.
Mental Health Care
Taking care of your mental health is important regardless of whether or not you have a mental illness. The goal isn’t to be happy and confident at all times, because realistically we will all waver. Good mental health is "a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community" - World Health Organisation.
Mental health can be influenced by the things going on in your life as well as your genetics. So maintaining a good mental health can be harder for some than others.
It’s important, regardless of who you are, to try and adopt strategies that can help you.
These can be:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Sleeping well
Alongside this, studies have shown that there are some mental health exercises that can help with feelings of anxiety and dealing with stress.
- Listening to calming music
- Progressive muscle relaxation
Mental Illness Symptoms
There are hundreds of mental illnesses and each show up in various ways and create their own symptoms. However, especially with the most common mental health disorders - such as depression, anxiety and PTSD - there are common symptoms that many share.
Knowing these symptoms will help you know what to look out for, and will make you better at identifying when yourself, or a loved one, may need help.
- not eating enough or eating too much
- sleeping too much or struggling to sleep
- distancing yourself from other people and favourite activities
- consistent fatigue
- feeling numbness or lacking empathy
- unexplainable body pains or aches
- feeling hopeless, helpless or lost
- using drugs or alcohol more than usual
- constant irritability or anger
- feeling anxious or scared
- feeling confused and forgetful
- extreme mood swings
- constant intrusive flashbacks or thoughts
- hearing voices
- thoughts of harming yourself or other people
- being unable to carry out day-to-day activities
Mental Health Diagnosis
Mental illness is complex, so it usually isn’t as easy as a single appointment or single assessment to diagnose. As previously mentioned, many of the symptoms present in one mental illness will be present in others. Similarly, there are some physical illnesses that can present psychologically.
When you raise your concerns, or state your symptoms, your doctor is likely to ask some follow up questions which could then be followed by various assessments. These could be physical, or more commonly, a mental health questionnaire.
The aim of the questionnaire is to help doctors understand what is happening with you and to give them a better understanding of what you’re experiencing and what you’re going through. In some cases, it may take more than one appointment or referral to get an official diagnosis. If that happens, it’ll generally mean that they’d like to rule out other possibilities to ensure that you get the correct diagnosis and therefore the best treatment.
If you are concerned about your mental health, you can take a mental health test / mood self assessment that the NHS has devised here where your results will be split into a depression score and anxiety score, and some advice will be provided. Please note however that this isn’t an official diagnosis and a medical professional will be able to give you a better assessment.
Mental Illness Treatment
Mental illnesses are as a result of many different factors - biological, developmental and social - and can affect each person differently. Because of this, the treatment for mental illnesses won’t be the same for everyone.
Treating mental illnesses is a way to manage the condition through reducing symptoms and addressing the causes, whatever they may be.
If you are diagnosed with a mental illness, your doctor will work with you to find a treatment plan that fits you the best. Most of these are amendable so it’s important to be honest with your doctor about how they’re affecting you.
These are some of the most common mental health treatments:
- Medication - most commonly antidepressants, anti-anxiety, antipsychotic and mood-stabilising medications
- Psychotherapy - helps you learn how to cope with your illness, manage your symptoms and identify unhealthy behaviours
- Hospital and residential treatment
- Home remedies / lifestyle changes - adopting a healthy lifestyle, removing certain triggers, etc. will help
Coping with Mental Illness
If you’re at the stage where you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness by a medical professional, you should have hopefully been given some advice about how to go about your life with this condition.
If you haven’t been advised, are unsure about what to do, or would like to know how to help someone else with a mental illness, there are a number of resources available online that can help. The links will be included at the end of this.
The most important thing for you to know is that with a mental illness, you can still live a full life.
Mental Health Recovery
For many mental illnesses, there is no cure. However, there are so many treatments and ways to support your mental health that with the right care, there is a good outlook on being able to live a meaningful life.
Recovering from a mental illness looks different for each person. For some, they get better and will no longer have the illness. For others with chronic conditions, recovering means that they have found a way to manage the symptoms.
In both cases, successful recovery usually means paying attention to both your mental and physical health.
Mental Health Support
You can find support in dealing with your mental illness from trusted friends and family, and medical professionals, including pharmacists. However there are also several organisations available that can support you. You can find a list of NHS approved mental health helplines here.
The NHS also has a list of resources to help you if urgent help is needed, such as if yourself or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, here.