|Mental Health Information |
What does 'mental health' actually mean?
Just like physical health, mental health is something that we all have and need to look after. It relates to our thoughts, beliefs and feelings about ourselves and the world around us. Aspects of positive mental health include feeling good about ourselves and others, having the resilience to cope with life's ups and downs, and feeling able to make a contribution to the society we live in.
What influences mental health?
Our mental health is always changing, as we encounter different life events and circumstances. Young people face a wide range of competing pressures as they make the difficult journey from childhood to adulthood. Sources of stress and concern include substance misuse, body image, relationship problems, academic pressures, and bullying. It is important that problems such as these are recognised and dealt with in their early stages to prevent them from developing into more severe and enduring mental health difficulties.
What is Mental Illness?
As with physical illness, mental illness includes a wide range of problems and conditions. Often these involve feelings of depression, anxiety or confusion. The growing up years can be a difficult time for young people and their families. Concerns about appearance, schoolwork, friends, the future and family, are among the many sources of stress and anxiety. It is perfectly normal to feel down or worried from time to time, particularly after a distressing life event, such as a bereavement. However, with mental illness, these feelings occur to such an extent, or for such a long period of time, that they make it difficult to cope with and enjoy everyday life.
What Causes Mental Illness?
The causes of mental health problems will be different for every individual and set of circumstances. There is usually no single, specific cause, but rather a combination of factors that leads to the development of mental health difficulties. These factors include the genes we inherit, our personality traits, life experiences and events, and family circumstances. While many of these factors are beyond our control, there are steps we can take to protect ourselves from the negative effects of stress and enhance our ability to cope.
Can Mental Illness be treated?
Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of mental health problems can be effectively treated. There is now a wide range of treatment options available, including counselling, psychotherapy, medication, psychological techniques, self-help strategies and support groups. These may be used individually or in different combinations to suit your individual needs. Your family doctor is the usual first point of contact if you feel you need help to cope with mental health problems. You can talk to him or her in confidence and they can assess your problems and decide what would be the best way to approach the situation. It may be that your doctor can help you. If not, he or she will be able to suggest someone who can, for example, a counsellor or a member of the community mental health team. If you prefer, you could contact one of the organisations or support services listed on this website. What is most important is that you get advice as early as you can before problems become established.
Specific mental health problems
What is it?
Most of us feel depressed or low from time to time but we can usually relate it to an event in our lives and find a way to move on from it. For some people, however, depression goes on for such a long time or is so severe that it becomes difficult to carry on with daily life.
Signs & symptoms
Symptoms of clinical depression include loss of interest and motivation, reduced energy, feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness and problems with sleeping, eating and concentrating.
Prevalence and treatment
Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses - around one in four people will experience it at some time or other. It is also one of the most treatable conditions, particularly if recognised early. Treatment options include medication, 'talking treatments', such as psychotherapy and counselling, and a range of self-help strategies.
You can find out more about how to recognise and deal with depression by visiting our Publication section or contact AWARE Defeat Depression 028 90321734 www.aware-ni.org
What is it?
Schizophrenia is a condition that distorts your thoughts and feelings and how you interpret the outside world. When severe, it can cause you to lose touch with reality and see or hear things, usually threatening, that other people cannot. You may develop delusions, for example, the belief that you are being followed, or that other people can read or control your thoughts. Such experiences are understandably frightening and bewildering and can lead to feelings of intense panic and anger, or over-active and agitated behaviour. An episode of schizophrenia can last for several weeks and is often followed by a period of withdrawal, when you feel depressed and unmotivated.
Common misconceptions about schizophrenia include the belief that the person has a 'split personality', that they will automatically be unpredictable or violent and that the illness cannot be treated.
As with many mental illnesses, there is disagreement over what causes schizophrenia. A combination of factors are probably involved, including genetics, bio-chemistry, family background and life events. Someone with a genetic predisposition to schizophrenia might develop the illness after a stressful life event.
Prevalence & treatment
Around 1 in 100 people will experience at least one episode of schizophrenia during their lifetime, with the highest incidence in the late teens and early twenties. About one quarter of people with a diagnosis will go on to make a complete recovery. Others will have long periods of good functioning, with occasional problems. Recent advances in treatment - both medical and psychological therapies - are enabling more and more people to successfully manage their illness and lead fulfilling lives. The ability to cope with daily activities and achieve a good quality of life is largely dependent on the support received from family and friends. Individuals affected by schizophrenia will need help to identify situations that trigger stress and work out a realistic daily schedule of activities. Individuals with schizophrenia often find it useful to set aside some time each day to withdraw from others and reflect on events and how they coped with them.
Further information & support
MindWise 028 90402323 www.mindwisenv.org
What is it?
Anxiety and fear are normal parts of life. We all become anxious in response to stressful events in our lives, like family problems or when a loved one becomes ill. However, if the feelings become too strong, or go on for a long time, they can stop us doing the things we want to do and make us feel miserable.
Symptoms of anxiety include feeling worried or irritable all the time, excessive tiredness, and finding it difficult to sleep or concentrate. There are usually physical effects too, such as a racing or irregular heart beat, sweating, muscle pain, dizziness or stomach upsets.
Some people seem to have anxious dispositions and have a tendency to react more strongly to stressful events. Other causes of anxiety can be major life changes or unresolved traumatic events, such as childhood abuse.
Prevalence & treatment
There are different forms of anxiety, including panic attacks, phobias and obsessions. Between 5% and 10% of all children and young people will experience problems of this nature but only a small proportion actually seek help. This needlessly prolongs the distress for individuals and those close to them, as anxiety can usually be effectively treated. Treatment options include psychotherapy or behaviour therapy, and, in some cases, medication. You can also help yourself by learning to relax, for example, by taking regular exercise and employing techniques to ease muscle tension and slow down breathing.
Further information & support
NI Agoraphobia & Anxiety Society 028 90235170
Bipolar disorder (manic depression)
What is it?
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, causes extreme changes in mood, from manic phases or "highs" to deep depressions or "lows". These mood swings significantly affect your ability to function and participate in normal daily activities. You may feel extremely depressed for long periods, or so excited and enthusiastic that your judgement and behaviour are affected. You might seriously over-estimate your capabilities, so that you do things that you deeply regret later. You may believe yourself to be someone you are not and even hear messages that seem to confirm this belief. You may feel so full of energy that you eventually exhaust yourself and those around you and when people try to 'bring you back to earth', you get irritated and impatient with them.
Bipolar disorder is probably caused by a combination of factors, including genetic make-up, bio-chemistry and psychological stress. People who are predisposed to the condition may become ill after a stressful event.
Bipolar disorder will affect one in a hundred people at some stage in their life. Some people have only one or two experiences of the illness, usually after a traumatic life event, such as a death or relationship break-up. The type of symptoms experienced, how severe they are, and how long they last, will be different for every individual.
In the majority of cases, the symptoms can be treated with careful use of medication and the support and understanding of family and friends. Talking treatments, such as counselling and support groups, can help you to understand the reasons for your feelings and make them easier to cope with. You can also help yourself, by learning to recognise the onset of high or low periods and the stressful situations that seem to trigger these. Taking regular exercise is an excellent way of reducing stress and anxiety and can help to lift your mood.
Further information & support MindWise 028 90402323 www.mindwisenv.org
What is it?
The most common forms of eating distress are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. These conditions tend to start in the teenage years and affect 10 times more women than men. Both involve an extreme fear of becoming fat.
Individuals with anorexia will go to enormous lengths to lose weight, eating only a tiny amount of calories each day, exercising excessively or taking laxatives. They normally have a distorted perception of their body weight, thinking they are fat, even when extremely thin.
With bulimia, there is an overpowering urge to eat large amounts of food (binging), which is then gotten rid of through vomiting or using laxatives. This induces feelings of depression, guilt and shame and the individual will often go to great lengths to hide their behaviour. The situation can go on for months or years unnoticed because weight often remains quite stable.
In most cases, individuals rely on strict control over food intake and body weight as a means of coping with underlying emotional difficulties, which may be connected to a distressing life experience. The prevalence of eating distress is also much higher in cultures where it is considered desirable to be thin, so there is no doubt that social pressure, particularly on young women, contributes greatly to the development of these conditions. Genetic factors are also likely to play a role in increasing vulnerability.
Both anorexia and bulimia nervosa can have very damaging effects on the body, especially the heart, bowels, kidneys, teeth and menstrual cycle. Possible psychological problems include anxiety, panic attacks, sleeping problems and depression.
Complete recovery from eating distress is possible, although often long and slow. Support from family and friends can make a great difference. The earlier a problem is spotted and dealt with, the more hope there is for recovery. The type of treatment used depends on the severity of the illness, but often includes self-help strategies and individual and group therapy to encourage the person to change their thinking about food and the way they view themselves. Admission to hospital may be necessary if weight loss is severe and life-threatening.
Further information and support
See article in Publication section or contact ADAPT Helpline - 028 38348869 www.adapteatingdistress.com
It is important to look after your mind as well as you body. Here are some simple tips for staying mentally healthy.
1. Don’t let worries get out of control – talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling.
2. Keep a healthy work-life balance – make time for yourself to do the things you enjoy.
3. Try to engage in some form of physical activity to boost your mood and reduce anxiety.
4. Keep in touch with family and friends
5. Eat well – a balanced diet is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health.
6. Sleep well – A lack of sleep not only causes you to feel tired but is also associated with poor mental health. Try to get about eight hours sleep every night