Information for young people on understanding types of mental health problems and symptoms.
There may be some mental health problems that you’ve heard a lot about, such as depression or anxiety. There may be others you've heard less about, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.
There are also symptoms people can experience, like hallucinations or self-harming. These can be experienced on their own or as part of a mental health problem.
No mental health problem is worse than another, and they’re not a sign of weakness.
This page gives a brief description of some different types of mental health problems and symptoms. It also covers:
See our page understanding mental health for more information.
"Having multiple mental illnesses does not make me any stronger or weaker than somebody with less mental illnesses."
Mental health problems don't have to be diagnosed by a doctor. But some people find getting a diagnosis of their mental health problem helpful. For example, if it helps them to access support.
Other people find that their feelings and behaviours (also known as symptoms) may not fit into any particular diagnosis, and that’s also okay.
"I’ve never felt attached to a diagnosis… I have always taken what is useful from them and forgotten about the rest."
Here are definitions of some mental health problems:
Depression – where you feel sad, low or tearful for a long time, and stop enjoying your everyday life.
Childline has more information on depression and where to get help.
Anxiety – where you often feel worried or afraid and this stops you from living your normal life. You might also experience panic and panic attacks.
If you're diagnosed with anxiety, you may be given a diagnosis of a specific anxiety disorder, like:
See Childline’s page on anxiety for more information and advice on where to get help.
Eating problems – when you eat much more or much less food than you need, or have a difficult relationship with food.
The most common eating problems are:
See Beat’s page on eating problems for more information and advice on where to get help.
Schizophrenia – can affect your thoughts and behaviours over a long period of time. It can include your thoughts or speech getting confused, or seeing and hearing things that others don’t.
See YoungMinds' page on schizophrenia for more information.
Bipolar disorder – big changes in mood that can affect your everyday life. You may have manic episodes (feeling high), and depressive episodes (feeling low).
For more information and advice on where to get help, see YoungMinds' page on bipolar disorder.
Personality disorders – when you find it difficult to change the bits of your personality that can cause you or other people problems. They can affect your relationships, attention, or behaviour.
They are hard to recognise as they have many different symptoms. You often need to have them for a couple of years before your doctor is able to diagnose you.
See the Mix's information about personality disorders to find out more.
"It’s important to know that you are not defined by your struggles… and that ultimately you are stronger than them."
We can all experience some feelings and behaviours which can be hard to deal with. For example, getting angry in an argument or panicking before a test.
But when you experience these feelings and behaviours for a long period of time, they could be linked with mental health problems. And it may be time to ask for help. These symptoms include:
Anger – an emotion that’s healthy to feel sometimes, but can become a problem when it gets out of control, aggressive or destructive. See our page on anger for more information.
Panic attacks – a way your body can respond to situations you view as stressful. It’s part of a natural reaction called the flight, fight or freeze reaction. This becomes a problem when it stops you from doing things you normally enjoy. You may feel sick or dizzy, start sweating, notice your heart beating faster, or feel like you're losing control.
Hallucinations – where you sense things that others can't, like hearing voices or seeing things. They're a common type of psychosis, which is when you perceive reality in a different way.
Delusions – where you believe something that isn't true and no-one else believes. For example, that you're someone else or that an event is going to take place. Delusions are another form of psychosis, and people with psychosis can see it as a good or bad experience.
Self-harm – when you hurt yourself to deal with difficult thoughts or experiences. See our page on coping with self-harm for more information.
Suicidal feelings – feeling like you want to die, or stop living. Although distressing, this doesn't necessarily mean you are planning to take your own life. Visit YoungMinds for information on suicidal feelings. Or you can visit our pages on finding support for yourself and how to support a friend.
"Everyone deals differently and this is an aspect of understanding mental health too."
Everyone can experience suicidal thoughts and it can be for any reason. If you want advice, support, or to talk things through with someone confidentially, Papyrus offers information and a helpline service.
If you feel unable to keep yourself safe then this is an emergency. You can:
Mental health emergencies are serious. You are not wasting anyone's time.
This information was published in June 2020. We will revise it in 2022.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.