Even today, mental health is still – to a certain extent - a taboo subject. Those who suffer often feel unable to talk about their issues openly for fear of being judged, whilst family, friends and colleagues can find it hard to talk to the person - meaning they change how they interact.
This can cause people to delay or never seek help and by doing so it can often make the problem worse.
1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children experience mental illness during their lifetime and many more of us know and care for people who do.
On a day like today, we thought it would make sense to give guidance and an overview on mental health as a whole. This topic effects each and everyone of us so any advice or guidance we can give will be relevant to all.
Causes of mental health issues
Mental health problems can have a wide range of causes. In most cases, precisely evaluating what the cause is can be a problem. It’s likely that for most people, the issues have occurred because of a combination of factors.
Some potential triggers could be:
- Social isolation or loneliness
- The death of some close to you
- Severe or long term stress
- Unemployment or losing your job
- Caring for family or friends
- A long term physical condition
- Drug or alcohol misuse
How are mental health issues diagnosed?
The first step in diagnosing a mental health problem is to visit your doctor, for some people this can be the biggest step of all as some patients are unable or unwilling to seek help.
To diagnose a mental health problem doctors will look at:
- What symptoms your experiencing (groupings of certain symptoms suggest different diagnoses)
- How long you have been experiencing these symptoms
- The impact they are having on your life.
To do this they may ask questions about your mood, thoughts and behaviours – sometimes using questionnaires or forms. They will base your diagnosis on what you describe for examples, if you tell your doctor that you have been experiencing low moods, low energy and a lack of interest in usual activities, this may lead to a diagnosis of depression.
Whilst your doctor may be able to diagnose common problems such as depression and anxiety after one or two appointments, for less common problems you’ll need to be referred to a mental health specialist (such as a psychiatrist) and they may want to see you over a longer period of time before they make a diagnosis.
When you receive your diagnosis it can be a positive experience. You might feel relieved that you can put a name to what’s wrong and it can help you and your doctor discuss what kind of treatment might work best for you.
Some people feel that a medical diagnosis is not enough, in this instant the diagnosis may lead you to feel it doesn’t fit with your experiences and puts you in a box. A diagnosis doesn’t have to shape your life entirely and could become a relatively minor part of your identity.
Talking treatments provide a regular time and space for you to talk about your thoughts and experiences and explore difficult feelings with a trained professional. This could help you to:
- Deal with a specific problem
- Cope with upsetting memories or experiences
- Improve your relationships
- Develop more helpful ways of living day to day
You may hear various terms used to describe talking treatments including counselling, psychotherapy or psychological therapy. These are all terms used to describe the same general style of treatment. There are many different types of therapy available and it’s important that you find a style and a therapist you feel comfortable with.
The most common type of treatment is prescription medication, these drugs don’t cure mental health problems but they can ease many symptoms. Which type of drug you are offered depends on your diagnosis.:
Mostly prescribed for people feeling low, depressed or even anxious.
- Sleeping pills or minor tranquillisers
These will be prescribed when you’re having difficulty sleeping, or to help you calm down if you experience extreme anxiety.
- Mood stabilisers
If you suffer with extreme mood swings or a condition such as bipolar disorder, these can help control your moods.
these reduce distressing symptoms of psychosis but are sometimes also prescribed for people experiencing bipolar disorder as they can help control mania.
For some, medication simply won’t be the answer, plus the side effects can make you feel worse rather than better. They can also be difficult to withdraw from and potentially lead to physical harm if taken in too high a dose. For others, alternative therapies such as painting, dancing or drama and music can help you express and understand yourself in a therapeutic environment. These can be especially effective if you find it hard to vocally express yourself.
How can other people help? It can be difficult to see someone you care about becoming distressed and unwell, but you don’t need to be an expert on mental health to offer them support often small everyday actions can make the biggest difference.
- Show your support
If you know someone has been unwell, don’t be afraid to ask how they are. They might want to talk about it, or they might not. Just letting them know they don’t have to avoid the issue with you is important.
- Be open minded
Phrases like ‘cheer up’, ‘I’m sure it’ll pass’ and ‘pull yourself together’ definitely don’t help. Try to be non-judgemental and listen. Someone experiencing a mental health problem often knows best what’s helpful for them.
- Ask how you can help
Everyone will want support at different times and in different ways, so ask how you can help. It may be useful to help keep track of medication or give support at a doctor’s appointment. If they need to get more exercise you could do this together.
- Don’t just talk about the issues
Keep in mind that having a mental health problem is just one aspect of the person’s life. Most people don’t want to be defined by their mental health problem so keep talking about the things you have always talked about together.
- Show trust and respect
These are very important – they help to rebuild and maintain a sense of self-esteem, which a mental health problem can seriously damage. This can help you cope if you can see your support is having a positive impact on the person you care about.
It is possible to recover from mental health problems and many people do especially after accessing support. Symptoms may return from time to time but you are more likely to feel confident in managing them.
If you are experiencing more serious problems it is still possible to find ways to manage your symptoms. For many people getting better doesn’t necessarily mean going back to how your life was before, but learning new ways to live your life the way you want to.
It is important to remember recovery is a journey and it won’t always be straightforward. You might find it better to focus on finding ways to cope rather than trying to get rid of every symptom of your mental health problems.