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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.

What else might I experience?

This page provides a brief overview of some difficult feelings and behaviours which are often associated with mental health problems, and explains where you can find more information on them.

Panic attacks

Panic attacks are a type of fear response. They're an exaggeration of your body's normal response to danger, stress or excitement.

During a panic attack physical symptoms can build up very quickly, including:

  • a pounding heartbeat or chest pains
  • sweating and nausea (feeling sick)
  • feeling faint and unable to breathe
  • shaky limbs, or feeling like your legs are turning to jelly
  • feeling as if you aren't connected to your body.

It's easy to mistake these for the signs of a heart attack or another serious medical problem. You might feel very afraid that you're losing control, that you're going to faint or even going to die.

To find out more see our page on panic attacks.

What's it like to have a panic attack?

Lewis, Polly, Faisal, Shelley and Brian talk about what it's like to have a panic attack, what has helped them cope and how friends and family have learned to help them.


Self-harm is when you hurt yourself as a way of dealing with very difficult feelings, painful memories or overwhelming situations and experiences. You may not know why you self-harm, but it can be a means of expressing feelings that you can't put into words or think clearly about.

After self-harming you may feel a short-term sense of release, but the cause of your distress is unlikely to have gone away.

Self-harm can also bring up very difficult emotions and could make you feel worse.

To find out more see our pages on self-harm.

Close up of Seaneen looking at camera

My body comes with a trigger warning

I didn't know how else to cope. I didn't like myself.

Suicidal feelings

Many people experience suicidal thoughts and feelings at some point in their lifetime. They can be very unpleasant, intrusive and frightening, but having thoughts about suicide doesn't necessarily mean that you intend to act on them. Most people don't go on to attempt to take their own lives.

However, if you feel you may act on suicidal feelings and become unable to keep yourself safe then this a mental health emergency. It's important to treat it as seriously as you would any physical health emergency, and seek urgent help – for example by dialling 999, going to your nearest A&E, or calling the Samaritans on 116 123.

To find out more see our pages on:

A portrait of a smiling man in a suit jacket and shirt with unbuttoned collar

It's okay to ask for help

A staggering 78% of suicides in the UK are by men. Yet not enough people are talking about it.


Psychosis (also called a psychotic experience or psychotic episode) is when you perceive or interpret reality in a very different way from people around you. The most common types of psychosis are:

  • hallucinations, such as hearing voices or having visions
  • delusions, such as paranoia or delusions of grandeur.

Psychosis affects people in different ways. You might experience it once, have short episodes throughout your life, or live with it most of the time. It's also possible to have a psychotic experience without ever being diagnosed with a particular mental health problem.

Some people have a positive experience of psychosis. You may find it comforting, or feel that it helps you understand the world or makes you more creative.

To find out more see our pages on:

Reka's story

Heart FM's Matt Wilkinson talks to Reka Krieg about her personal experiences of psychosis.

Read the transcript of the podcast here. Find out more about our podcasts or subscribe to our podcast on iTunes or Audioboom.

[Psychosis] felt as though I was in wonderland. None of my family or friends understood why... I had a calling from a voice in sky. I was lost and lonely.

This information was published in October 2017.

This page is currently under review. All content was accurate when published. 

References and bibliography available on request.

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