Mental health problems – an introduction

Explains what mental health problems are, what may cause them, and the many different kinds of help, treatment and support that are available. Also provides guidance on where to find more information, and tips for friends and family.

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What are mental health problems?

Mental health problems can affect the way you think, feel and behave. They affect around one in four people in Britain, and range from common mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety, to more rare problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A mental health problem can feel just as bad, or worse, as any other physical illness – only you cannot see it.

Cultural perspectives on mental health problems
Different cultures have different approaches to mental health and mental illness. Most Western countries agree on a similar set of clinical diagnoses and treatments for mental health problems. However, cultures in which there are other traditions or beliefs may not use these terms.

Depending on the culture you grew up in, you might be more familiar with terms like 'poor emotional health' or 'poor emotional wellbeing' to describe your experiences, and have different ideas about how best to cope. And in many cultures, mental health is closely associated with religious or spiritual life.

How you understand your own mental health, and any problems you experience, will be personal to you.

Could I be ‘going mad’?

Experiencing a mental health problem is often upsetting and frightening, particularly at first. If you become unwell, you may feel that it's a sign of weakness, or that you are 'losing your mind', and that it's only going to get worse. You may be scared of being seen as 'mad' by other people in your life. You may also be afraid of being locked up in an institution.

These fears are often reinforced by the negative (and often unrealistic) way that people experiencing mental health problems are shown on TV, in films and by the media. These fears may stop you from talking about your problems, or seeking help. This, in turn, is likely to increase your distress and sense of isolation.

However, in reality, mental health problems are a common human experience. Most people know someone who has experienced a mental health problem. They can happen to anyone, at any time. And it's likely that, when you find a combination of self-caretreatment and support that works for you, you will get better.


Are people with mental health problems dangerous?

Some people think that there is an automatic link between mental health problems and being a danger to others. This is an idea that is largely reinforced by sensationalised stories in the media. However, the most common mental health problems have no significant link to violent behaviour.

The proportion of people living with a mental health problem who commit a violent crime is extremely small. There are lots of reasons someone might commit a violent crime, and factors like drug and alcohol misuse are far more likely to be the cause of violent behaviour. But many people are still worried about talking about how they're feeling, or seeking help, because of the fear and stigma of being seen as dangerous.

It's important to remember that experiencing difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviours when you're unwell is common, and it's extremely unlikely to mean you may harm another person.

This information was published in December 2015. We will revise it in 2018.

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