Living with a mental health problem can feel tough. Here you can find useful information about mental health problems, therapies and medication, tips for coping with everyday life and more.
All of the content in this Useful Resources section of our website has been published courtesy of the national Mind website. It is for information only and does not amount to medical advice.
If there is something you feel we should include here, please get in touch.
Mental Health Problems
Anxiety and panic attacks
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
You may have heard of the ‘fight, flight or freeze’ response. It’s something that can happen automatically when we experience anxiety or panic.
Anxiety is a natural human response when we feel that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
When we feel under threat our bodies react by releasing certain hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can be helpful. These hormones:
- Make us feel more alert, so we can act faster
- Make our hearts beat faster, quickly sending blood to where it’s needed most.
After we feel the threat has passed, our bodies release other hormones to help our muscles relax. This can sometimes cause us to shake.
Most people feel anxious at times. It’s particularly common to experience some anxiety while coping with stressful events or changes, especially if they could have a big impact on your life.
Anxiety can become a mental health problem if it impacts your ability to live your life as fully as you want to. For example, it may be a problem if:
- Your feelings of anxiety are very strong or last for a long time
- Your fears or worries are out of proportion to the situation
- You avoid situations that might cause you to feel anxious
- Your worries feel very distressing or are hard to control
- You regularly experience symptoms of anxiety, which could include panic attacks
- You find it hard to go about your everyday life or do things you enjoy
If your symptoms fit a particular set of medical criteria then you might be diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder. But it’s also possible to experience problems with anxiety without having a specific diagnosis.
Bipolar disorder is a mental health problem that mainly affects your mood. If you have bipolar disorder, you’re likely to have times where you experience:
- Manic or hypomanic episodes, which means feeling high
- Depressive episodes, which means feeling low
- Potentially some psychotic symptoms during manic or depressive episodes
You might hear these different experiences called mood episodes or states.
Depending on the way you experience these moods, and how severely they affect you, your doctor may diagnose you with a particular type of bipolar disorder.
The word bipolar has two parts:
- Bi meaning ‘two’
- Polar meaning ‘completely opposite’
The term bipolar refers to the way your mood can change between two very different states – mania and depression. In the past, people used to refer to bipolar disorder as manic depression. You might still hear people use this older term today.
But both terms can lead to misunderstanding. People can think it means only having mood swings between severe mania and depression. But bipolar disorder is much more complex than this.
Mood episodes can range from severe depression to mania, and anything in between. Sometimes your episodes may feel intense and other times you may feel stable. And you may never experience certain mood episodes. For example, not everyone with bipolar disorder will experience mania.
Some healthcare professionals may also use the term bipolar affective disorder. ‘Affective’ means that the disorder relates to mood or emotions.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a type of personality disorder. You might be diagnosed with a personality disorder if you have difficulties with how you think and feel about yourself and other people. And if these difficulties make it hard to cope day to day.
Experiences of BPD are different for different people. You may experience emotions that are very intense, overwhelming or changeable. You may also experience difficulties with relationships or your sense of identity.
You may hear other names for BPD, such as:
- Emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD)
- Emotional intensity disorder (EID)
- Borderline pattern personality disorder (borderline pattern PD)
It’s your choice which term, if any, you use. People have very different views on BPD and there are ongoing debates about the diagnosis of personality disorders. Some people find a BPD diagnosis helpful or validating. Some find it unhelpful or stigmatising.
There’s no right or wrong way to understand or describe your experiences. The important thing to remember is that you deserve support and understanding.
You might be given a diagnosis of BPD if you experience at least five of the following things. And if they’ve lasted for a long time and have a big impact on different parts of your daily life:
- Feeling very worried about people abandoning you, and like you’d try very hard to stop that happening
- Having intense emotions that last from a few hours to a few days and can change quickly (such as feeling very happy and confident to suddenly feeling low and sad)
- Feeling insecure about who you are, with your sense of self changing significantly depending on who you’re with
- Finding it really hard to make and keep stable relationships, and often viewing relationships as completely perfect or completely bad
- Feeling empty a lot of the time
- Acting impulsively and doing things that could harm you, such as binge eating, using drugs and alcohol, or driving dangerously
- Using self-harm to manage your feelings or feeling suicidal
- Feeling intense anger, which can be difficult to control
- Experiencing paranoia or dissociation in moments of extreme stress
Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.
In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits. It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.
We all have times when our mood is low, and we’re feeling sad or miserable about life. Usually these feelings pass in due course.
But if the feelings are interfering with your life and don’t go away after a couple of weeks, or if they come back over and over again for a few days at a time, it could be a sign that you’re experiencing depression.
If you are given a diagnosis of depression, you might be told that you have mild, moderate or severe depression. This describes what sort of impact your symptoms are having on you currently, and what sort of treatment you’re likely to be offered. You might move between mild, moderate and severe depression during one episode of depression or across different episodes.
An eating problem is any relationship with food that you find difficult.
Many people think that someone with an eating problem will be over or underweight. People might also think that certain weights are linked to certain eating problems. Neither of these points are true.
Anyone can experience eating problems. This is regardless of age, gender, weight or background.
Food plays a significant part in our lives. Most of us will spend time thinking about what we eat. Sometimes you might:
- Have cravings
- Eat more than usual
- Lose your appetite
- Try to eat healthier
Changing your eating habits like this every now and again is normal.
But if you feel like food and eating is taking over your life, it may become a problem.
An eating disorder is a medical diagnosis. This diagnosis is based on your eating patterns and includes medical tests on your weight, blood and body mass index (BMI).
An eating problem is any relationship with food that you find difficult. This can be just as hard to live with as a diagnosed eating disorder.
Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) has two main parts: obsessions and compulsions.
- Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind. They can make you feel very anxious (although some people describe it as ‘mental discomfort’ rather than anxiety).
- Compulsions are repetitive activities that you do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession. It could be something like repeatedly checking a door is locked, repeating a specific phrase in your head or checking how your body feels.
You might find that sometimes your obsessions and compulsions are manageable, and at other times they may make your day-to-day life really difficult. They may be more severe when you are stressed about other things, like life changes, health, money, work or relationships.
Although many people experience minor obsessions (such as worrying about leaving the gas on, or if the door is locked) and compulsions (such as avoiding the cracks in the pavement), these don’t significantly interfere with daily life, or are short-lived.
If you experience OCD, it’s likely that your obsessions and compulsions will have a big impact on how you live your life:
- Disruption to your day-to-day life. Repeating compulsions can take up a lot of time, and you might avoid certain situations that trigger your OCD. This can mean that you’re not able to go to work, see family and friends, eat out or even go outside. Obsessive thoughts can make it hard to concentrate and leave you feeling exhausted.
- Impact on your relationships. You may feel that you have to hide your OCD from people close to you – or your doubts and anxieties about a relationship may make it too difficult to continue.
- Feeling ashamed or lonely. You may feel ashamed of your obsessive thoughts, or worry that they can’t be treated. You might want to hide this part of you from other people, and find it hard to be around people or to go outside. This can make you feel isolated and lonely.
- Feeling anxious. You may find that your obsessions and compulsions are making you feel anxious and stressed. For example, some people feel that they have to carry out their compulsions so frequently that they have little control over them.
Our personality is the collection of thoughts, feelings and behaviours that makes each of us the individuals we are.
We don’t always think, feel and behave in exactly the same way – it depends on the situation we are in, the people with us and many other interconnecting factors.
However, if you experience significant difficulties in how you relate to yourself and others and have problems coping day to day, you may receive a diagnosis of personality disorder.
You might be given a diagnosis of personality disorder if all of these apply:
- The way you think, feel and behave causes you significant problems in daily life. For example, you may feel unable to trust others or you may often feel abandoned, causing you or others distress in day-to-day relationships.
- You experience these problems across different aspects of your life. For example, you may struggle to start or keep friendships, to control your feelings and behaviour, or get on with people. There may be an intensity to your emotions that makes them feel frightening and overwhelming sometimes.
- These problems continue for a long time. These difficult patterns may have started when you were a child or teenager and can carry on into your life as an adult.
- These problems are not solely caused by a substance or a medical condition. For example, using drugs or medication can cause changes in people, as can the physical effects of experiences like head trauma.
You can only be diagnosed with a personality disorder by a mental health professional experienced in diagnosing and treating mental health problems, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist – not by your GP.
If you speak to your GP about your mental health and they think you might have a personality disorder, they can refer you to your local community mental health team (CMHT) who will be able to assess you.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health problem you may develop after experiencing traumatic events. The condition was first recognised in war veterans. It has had different names in the past, such as ‘shell shock’, but it’s not only diagnosed in soldiers. A wide range of traumatic experiences can be causes of PTSD.
When you go through something you find traumatic it’s understandable to experience some symptoms of PTSD afterwards, such as feeling numb or having trouble sleeping. This is sometimes described as an ‘acute stress reaction’.
Many people find that these symptoms disappear within a few weeks, but if your symptoms last for longer than a month, you might be given a diagnosis of PTSD. Your GP might refer you to a specialist before this if your symptoms are particularly severe.
If you are given a diagnosis of PTSD, you might be told that you have mild, moderate or severe PTSD. This explains what sort of impact your symptoms are having on you currently – it’s not a description of how frightening or upsetting your experiences might have been.
Psychosis (also called a ‘psychotic experience’ or ‘psychotic episode’) is when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you. You might be said to ‘lose touch’ with reality.
The most common types of psychotic experiences are hallucinations, delusions and disorganised thinking and speech.
Psychosis affects people in different ways. You might experience it once, have short episodes throughout your life, or live with it most of the time.
Some people have positive experiences of psychosis. For example, if you see the faces of loved ones or hear their voices you may find this comforting. Some people say it helps them understand the world or makes them more creative.
However, for other people psychosis can be a very difficult or frightening experience. You may find that it:
- Affects your behaviour or disrupts your life
- Makes you feel very tired or overwhelmed
- Makes you feel anxious, scared, threatened or confused
- Leaves you finding it very difficult to trust some organisations or people
It can also be upsetting if people around you dismiss your experiences as untrue when they seem very real to you. You may feel misunderstood and frustrated if other people don’t understand.
The word psychosis is usually used to refer to an experience. It is a symptom of certain mental health problems rather than a diagnosis itself.
Doctors and psychiatrists may describe someone as experiencing psychosis rather than giving them a specific diagnosis. Some people prefer this.
If you are diagnosed with one or more of these conditions then you may experience psychosis. Alternatively, if you experience psychosis (and you have other symptoms too), then you may be given one of these diagnoses:
- Severe depression
- Bipolar disorder
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Paranoid personality disorder or schizotypal personality disorder
- Postpartum psychosis
- Delusional disorder
Some people experience psychosis on its own. If you experience psychosis for less than a month and your doctor doesn’t think that another diagnosis describes your symptoms better, you may receive the diagnosis of ‘brief psychotic disorder’.
Schizoaffective disorder is a mental health problem where you experience psychosis as well as mood symptoms.
The word schizoaffective has two parts:
o ‘Schizo–‘ refers to symptoms of psychosis
o ‘–Affective’ refers to mood symptoms
Some people have suggested that schizoaffective disorder sits in the middle of a spectrum, with schizophrenia at one end and bipolar disorder at the other. This is because these diagnoses share many similar symptoms. But schizoaffective disorder is recognised as a separate diagnosis.
You might have times when you struggle to look after yourself. Or when your doctors feel that you lack insight into your behaviour and how you’re feeling.
Symptoms can begin at any age, but usually start when you’re a young adult. Some people only experience symptoms of schizoaffective disorder once in their life.
Schizophrenia is a complicated mental health problem related to psychosis. There’s lots of misconceptions about it. Even mental health professionals don’t all agree about it. But the reality is that about 1 in every 100 people get this diagnosis at some point in their life.
Many experiences and behaviours can be part of schizophrenia. They can start suddenly, or they might develop gradually over time.
Each person’s experience is unique. A doctor might suggest you have schizophrenia if you experience some of the following:
- A lack of interest in things
- Feeling disconnected from your emotions
- Difficulty concentrating
- Wanting to avoid people
- Hallucinations, such as hearing voices or seeing things others don’t
- Delusions (strong beliefs that others don’t share), including paranoid delusions
- Disorganised thinking and speech
- Not wanting to look after yourself
Hallucinations and delusions are types of psychosis.
You might also find that you:
- Aren’t able to carry on with day-to-day activities, like going to work or taking care of yourself
- Become upset, confused or suspicious of other people or particular groups (like strangers, or people in authority)
- Disagree with people who think something is wrong
- Feel worried or afraid of seeking help.
Professionals sometimes talk about schizophrenia symptoms as being ‘positive’ and ‘negative’. But this doesn’t mean ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
Positive symptoms are experiences or behaviours that the condition adds to your life. Like hearing or seeing things that others don’t, or having a belief that something is real or true when it isn’t.
Negative symptoms are experiences or behaviours that the condition takes away from your life. Like finding things less interesting or enjoyable, moving your body less, or having less motivation.
Diagnosing schizophrenia is complicated – there’s no straightforward test for it. And views on this diagnosis have been changing over the years. Many people think that it may actually be several overlapping conditions, rather than one single condition.
If you’re experiencing symptoms, it’s a good idea to start by talking to your doctor. They may refer you to a mental health specialist, who can assess you by asking you questions. Most people diagnosed with schizophrenia are aged between 18 and 35. It seems to affect roughly the same number of men and women.
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that you experience during particular seasons or times of year. Depression is a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.
If you have SAD, you’ll experience depression during some seasons in particular, or because of certain types of weather or temperature. You can experience it in winter or summer.
It’s common to be affected by changing seasons and weather, or to have times of year when you feel more or less comfortable. For example, you might find that your mood or energy levels drop when it gets colder or warmer, or notice changes in your sleeping or eating patterns.
But if your feelings are interfering with your everyday life, it could be a sign that you have depression. And if they keep coming back at the same time of year, doctors might call this seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or ‘seasonal depression’.
If you have SAD, you might experience some of the signs and symptoms below. But it’s different for different people, and can vary season to season, so you might also have other kinds of feelings which aren’t listed here:
- Lack of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Not wanting to see people
- Feeling sad, low, tearful, guilty or hopeless
- Feeling anxious, angry and agitated
- Being more prone to physical health problems, such as colds, infections or other illnesses
- Sleeping too much, or difficulty waking up (common with SAD in winter)
- Sleeping too little, or waking up a lot (common with SAD in summer)
- Changes in your appetite, for example feeling hungrier or not wanting to eat
- Losing interest in sex or physical contact
- Suicidal feelings
- Other symptoms of depression
If you also have other mental health problems, you might find that things get worse at times when you’re affected by SAD.
Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. Some people have described self-harm as a way to:
- Express something that is hard to put into words
- Turn invisible thoughts or feelings into something visible
- Change emotional pain into physical pain
- Reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts
- Have a sense of being in control
- Escape traumatic memories
- Have something in life that they can rely on
- Punish themselves for their feelings and experiences
- Stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated
- Create a reason to physically care for themselves
- Express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking their own life
After self-harming you may feel a short-term sense of release, but the cause of your distress is unlikely to have gone away. Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse.
Even though there are always reasons underneath someone hurting themselves, it is important to know that self-harm does carry risks. Once you have started to depend on self-harm, it can take a long time to stop.
There are lots of different forms of self-harming. Some people use the same one all the time, other people hurt themselves in different ways at different times.
If you self-harm, it is important that you know how to look after your injuries and that you have access to the first aid equipment you need. LifeSIGNS has information on first aid for self-injury and self-harm.
If you’re concerned about an injury or not sure how to look after it, see your GP.
Suicide is the act of intentionally taking your own life.
Suicidal feelings can mean having abstract thoughts about ending your life or feeling that people would be better off without you. Or it can mean thinking about methods of suicide or making clear plans to take your own life.
If you are feeling suicidal, you might be scared or confused by these feelings. You may find the feelings overwhelming.
But you are not alone. Many people think about suicide at some point in their lifetime.
Different people have different experiences of suicidal feelings. You might feel unable to cope with the difficult feelings you are experiencing. You may feel less like you want to die and more like you cannot go on living the life you have.
These feelings may build over time or might change from moment to moment. And it’s common to not understand why you feel this way.
How you might think or feel:
- Hopeless, like there is no point in living
- Tearful and overwhelmed by negative thoughts
- Unbearable pain that you can’t imagine ending
- Useless, not wanted or not needed by others
- Desperate, as if you have no other choice
- Like everyone would be better off without you
- Cut off from your body or physically numb
- Fascinated by death
What you may experience:
- Poor sleep, including waking up earlier than you want to
- A change in appetite, weight gain or loss
- No desire to take care of yourself, for example neglecting your physical appearance
- Wanting to avoid others
- Making a will or giving away possessions
- Struggling to communicate
- Self-loathing and low self-esteem
- Urges to self-harm
How long suicidal feelings last is different for everyone. It is common to feel as if you’ll never be happy or hopeful again.
But with treatment and support, including self-care, the majority of people who have felt suicidal go on to live fulfilling lives.
It’s important to remember that you deserve support, you are not alone and there is support out there.
Going through very stressful, frightening or distressing events is sometimes called trauma. When we talk about emotional or psychological trauma, we might mean:
o Situations or events we find traumatic
o How we’re affected by our experiences
Traumatic events can happen at any age and can cause long-lasting harm. Everyone has a different reaction to trauma, so you might notice any effects quickly, or a long time afterwards.
If you’ve been affected by trauma, it’s important to remember that you survived however you could and are having common, normal reactions.
Going through further trauma can also cause you to start being affected by past experiences, or make existing problems worse. It’s ok to ask for help at any time – including if you’re not sure if you’ve experienced trauma.
What’s traumatic is personal. Other people can’t know how you feel about your own experiences or if they were traumatic for you. You might have similar experiences to someone else, but be affected differently.
Therapies & Medications
There are various medications that may be offered to you if you’re experiencing mental health problems. Your GP or medical professional may offer you medication to help with symptoms such as depression or anxiety.
Here you can find links to information about different medications, how they work, possible side effects and information about withdrawal.
Antidepressants are psychiatric drugs which are licensed to treat depression. Some are also licensed to treat other conditions, such as:
- Anxiety disorders
- Bulimia (an eating disorder)
- Some physical conditions, including managing long-term pain
Find out more about Antidepressants – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antidepressants/about-antidepressants/
Visit the national Mind A-Z of Antidepressants, which lists each drug by name – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antidepressants-a-z/overview/
Antipsychotics are a type of psychiatric medication which are available on prescription to treat psychosis. They are licensed to treat certain types of mental health problem whose symptoms include psychotic experiences. This includes:
- Schizoaffective disorder
- Some forms of bipolar disorder
- Severe depression
- The psychotic symptoms of a personality disorder
Find out more about Antipsychotics – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antipsychotics/about-antipsychotics/
Visit the national Mind A-Z of Antipsychotics, which lists each drug by name – https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/drugs-and-treatments/antipsychotics-a-z/overview/
Lithium & Other Mood Stabilisers
Mood stabilisers are a type of psychiatric drug. They are licensed to be used as part of the treatment for:
- Bipolar disorder
- Mania and hypomania
- Recurrent, severe depression and schizoaffective disorder, in some cases
Some of the individual drugs we call mood stabilisers are actually very different chemical substances from each other. But healthcare professionals often group them together, because they can all help to stabilise your mood if you experience problems with extreme highs or extreme lows. They can also help if you have mood swings between extreme highs and lows.
Sleeping pills and minor tranquilisers
Sleeping pills and minor tranquillisers are sedative medications. This means they slow down your body and brain’s functions. For example, this may be your breathing, heartbeat and thought processes.
These medications can be prescribed for severe anxiety or insomnia (difficulty getting to sleep or staying asleep). This includes prescribing:
- Benzodiazepine medication for anxiety or insomnia
- Non-benzodiazepine sleeping pills
- Non-benzodiazepine anti-anxiety medication
You may also hear these drugs referred to as hypnotics and anxiolytics. And although we use the term ‘sleeping pills’ to describe many of these drugs, some of them may also be available as a liquid, either to swallow or inject.
Talking Therapies & Counselling
Talking therapies are treatments which involve talking to a trained professional about your thoughts, feelings and behaviour. There are many different types of talking therapy, but they all aim to:
- Give you a safe time and place to talk to someone who won’t judge you
- Help you make sense of things and understand yourself better
- Help you resolve complicated feelings, or find ways to live with them
- Help you recognise unhelpful patterns in the way you think or act, and find ways to change them (if you want to)
Counselling is a talking therapy where a qualified counsellor can work with you short or long term (depending on what you need), to help you make changes or improve your wellbeing. Wellbeing is about being comfortable, healthy and happy.
How do I know if counselling will help me?
Counselling is there to help you deal with issues that are causing emotional pain or making you feel uncomfortable. It can provide a safe and regular space for you to talk and explore difficult feelings. The counsellor is there to support you and respect your views.
Counselling services can help you:
- Cope with a bereavement or relationship breakdown
- Cope with redundancy or work-related stress
- Explore issues such as sexual identity
- Deal with issues preventing you achieving your ambitions
- Deal with feelings of depression or sadness, and have a more positive outlook on life
- Deal with feelings of anxiety, helping you worry less about things
- Understand yourself and your problems better
- Feel more confident
- Develop a better understanding of other people’s points of view
Mid and North East Essex Mind offer counselling via the NHS and private counselling.
Some people think that therapy is an extreme option, and that unless things get really bad you should try to manage on your own. But this isn’t true. It’s ok to try therapy at any point in your life, whatever your background.
In fact getting support from a therapist when you’re not at crisis point can be really helpful – it might feel easier to reflect on what’s going on, and could help you keep things from getting worse.
Helplines & Communities
Blue Light Together
Blue Light Together is the place for UK emergency services staff, volunteers, retirees and friends and family to find information, ideas and support to help look after your mental health.
The national Mind Infoline provides an information and signposting service. It’s open 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
Calls from UK landlines are charged at local rates.
Charges from mobile telephones vary. The charge for your call will depend on your mobile phone provider and the contract that you have with them.
Mind record all calls for training and quality purposes. All calls are treated in confidence.
Post: Mind Infoline, PO Box 75225, London, E15 9FS
Mind Side by Side
Side by Side is national Mind’s online community. It’s open 24/7 and is moderated by the team at Mind.