This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, a national campaign that aims to raise the profile and acknowledge the issue that affects around two-thirds of the UK, with many suffering in silence.
Every year, the campaign aims to work towards ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues, encouraging people to get help when they need it and broadcasting the support networks available.
Mental health is a complicated and personal issue that affects everyone differently, sometimes, people living with mental health issues feel their condition is ‘not severe enough’, preventing them from seeking help.
While cases are often personal and individual to the sufferer, there are certain signs and symptoms that provide a good indication of mental health and mental health conditions.
Anxiety is a fear that something will go wrong or a worry about a potential threat in the future, but may also occur in the moment. Anxiety can vary in severity and may render the sufferer incapable of performing everyday tasks.
Anxiety is a natural survival response and can affect people both physically and psychologically. During a period of heightened anxiety, a person’s heartbeat may become rapid or irregular, they may feel dizzy, breathe fast, sweat more, and feel as though their muscles are weak or tense. On a psychological level, a person may feel irritable or depressed, with reduced self-confidence, lack of concentration and experience trouble sleeping.
Depression can manifest in lots of ways and is more than just feeling sad or fed up for a few days. A person experiencing depression will feel intense anxiety, hopelessness and negativity for weeks, months or years on end without the right help.
There are physical symptoms associated with depression too, loss of energy and exhaustion can render a person unable to get out of bed, they may experience a loss of appetite, loss of sex drive and various aches and pains. While mentally, there may be feelings of hopelessness, guilt or worthlessness.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal Affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that runs in a seasonal pattern, with episodes often occurring during the winter months.
The symptoms are typically most severe in December, January and February and a person may experience a persistent low mood, feelings of despair and lethargy, sleeping for longer and craving carbohydrates and gaining weight.
Many people with eating disorders go undiagnosed, but between 600,000 and 725,000 people in the UK are affected. Eating disorders are when someone experiences body weight/shape issues and drastically change their eating habits and attitude to food.
The most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Anorexia nervosa is where someone tries to get their weight as low as possible, often through not eating enough and exercising excessively. The disorder often stems from believing personal problems are caused by the way they look. Bulimia nervosa is identified as a pattern of binge eating and then purging, often through vomiting or laxatives, to keep their weight low.
While everyone may feel stressed at some point in their lives, if left unchecked and unaddressed, the condition can become unmanageable and lead to further mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.
Stress can cause emotional, mental and physical responses which can be an indicator of the condition. Feeling irritable, anxious, or worrying with an inability to make decisions are just some of the symptoms experienced during a period of stress.
For Stress Awareness Month, we wrote on how to deal with stress, read the full report here.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder, or OCD, is much more than wanting things to be tidy and clean. The disorder is identified by obsessive thoughts which lead to a compulsion (repetitive behaviour) that a person feels they need to carry out to relieve the feelings brought on by the obsessive thought.
Some obsessive thoughts that a person may experience include fear of harming themselves or others by accident, fear of disease or infection, fear of a burglary, fear of abandonment or a need for symmetry.
Compulsions which arise from obsessive thoughts may include asking for reassurance, checking (locked doors, the gas is off etc), counting, cleaning and hand washing or repeating words (internally or externally).
The main indicator of OCD is the repetition and cycle of obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour, a cycle that the person struggles to break.
Bipolar disorder is when a person’s moods shift dramatically from one end of the spectrum to the other. The two periods/episodes that a person with the condition experiences are depression and mania.
During a depressive episode, there may be overwhelming feelings of worthlessness, lethargy and low mood.
During a manic episode, a person with bipolar disorder may have lots of energy and a positive outlook with ambitious plans/ideas that result in spending money and behaviours outside of what is typical of a person. Feeling like there isn’t a need for sleep or eating and becoming annoyed quickly may also be experienced.
The two mood extremes may last for weeks or months before flipping to the opposite and the cycle can be both exhausting and potentially hazardous to health.
Psychosis is when a person’s perception of reality is distorted, often resulting in delusions – irrational beliefs and/or hallucinations – seeing, smelling or feeling things that aren’t real. These two main symptoms can cause distress and a change in behaviour in the person experiencing them.
An isolated experience of psychosis is referred to as a psychotic episode, but it may also be a symptom of other mental health issues such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Schizophrenia is often described as a form of psychosis, where a person cannot always distinguish between reality and their own thoughts and ideas.
The symptoms of schizophrenia are grouped into positive and negative symptoms. Positive symptoms include hallucinations, delusions and thought disorder – where it is hard to keep track of thoughts and conversations, sometimes resulting in jumbled speech. Negative symptoms are a withdrawal or lack of function that a healthy person has, for example, loss of interest in life and activities, lack of concentrations and inability to initiate conversations.
While many people assume that agoraphobia is a fear of open spaces, the condition is more complex and is more like a fear of being in a situation where escape would be difficult and help is not readily available.
For example, a person with agoraphobia may fear leaving their house, visiting busy public areas or travelling on buses or trains.
The fear manifests itself when the sufferer experiences a stressful situation, resulting in the symptoms of a panic attack like rapid heartbeat and breathing, nausea and feeling hot and sweaty.
There are many more conditions that fall under the mental health category and the first step to treatment is getting the right diagnosis. Visit the Mental Health Foundation for more information and conditions.
If you are concerned about your mental health or feel someone close to you could benefit from mental health services, contact your GP for advice and support. If immediate help is needed and a GP is unavailable, visit your local A&E for assistance.
HMT operates two not-for-profit hospitals in Grimsby and Sancta Maria;
St Hughs Hospital in Grimsby – 01472 251 100
Sancta Maria Hospital in Swansea – 01792 479 040