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.

Your stories

We've come so far, but got so far to go

Juliette blogs about stigma and misunderstanding and why it's time to change attitudes.

Juliette Burton
Posted on 16/07/2015

How are you?

Claire blogs about the question 'How are you?' and why we should answer honestly.

Posted on 11/05/2015

Tom and Morgan's epic fundraising cycle

Tom and Morgan have set out on a 2000-mile bike ride from Hanoi to Singapore to raise money for mental health.

Posted on 27/03/2015

What support is available?

If your mental health problems are severe or longer lasting, or the treatment your doctor has offered you isn't working, they can refer you to specialist mental health services. This page provides a brief overview of the following services, and explains where you can find more information:

Community mental health teams (CMHTs)

CMHTs support people with mental health problems living in the community, and also their carers. The team may include a community psychiatric nurse (CPN), a psychologist, an occupational therapist, a counsellor and a community support worker, as well as a social worker.

Often, a member of the team will be appointed as your care coordinator, to keep in regular contact with you and help plan your care.

Social (or community) care

Social care is any care or support you need to carry out day-to-day tasks which you're finding difficult. This could include help with managing money or improving relationships, transport to attend appointments or services, or assistance with benefits and housing applications. You can ask your doctor or CMHT to refer you to social services, or you can contact them directly to ask for an assessment.

(See our legal pages about health and social care for more information on your rights to social care, and how to access these services.)

Read Marian's blog about how a day centre has helped her.

Residential care

If you aren’t able to cope on your own at home, there are other options for housing. You can talk through your options with your support worker(s), carers and mental health team. You might be able to access:

  • hostels – these are short-term accommodation, with supervision, to help you until you can live more independently.
  • residential care homes – these offer a much higher level of support for people with severe mental health problems.
  • therapeutic communities – these are for short stays, with group or individual therapy as part of their rehabilitation programmes.
  • supported housing schemes – these enable you to live independently, in furnished accommodation, with the back-up of a mental health support worker in case you need extra help.

(See our pages on housing and mental health for more information about the link between your mental health and your housing situation.)

Listen to Clarissa's experience of living in a therapeutic community.

Crisis intervention

In most areas, you should have access to a crisis resolution and home treatment team (CRHT). These teams can support you through a crisis at home.

If you do not have access to a local crisis service, you could:

  • get an emergency appointment with your doctor
  • call the Samaritans
  • contact your CMHT if you have been referred to it previously
  • go to the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department at a local hospital or call 999 if you are at immediate risk.

(See our page on CRHTs for more information about how they can help. Our pages on crisis services have more information about your options for support during a mental health crisis.)

I did take myself to the crisis team at A&E and got some help, [although I was] left to sit on my own for two hours. [After waiting] I was put in touch with the right people – they came to see me while I was there and I had a psych evaluation.

Campaigning for excellent crisis care

While we know that excellent crisis services do exist, unfortunately they're not consistently available across the UK. We know how frustrating and difficult it can be to cope with services that don't provide the precise help you need, exactly when you need it. That's why we're campaigning to improve crisis care across the country.

See our campaigns page to find out more.

Hospital treatment

Hospital inpatient services support people with severe mental health problems, or people who are experiencing a crisis. Most hospital admissions are voluntary, but if you are assessed and judged to be at risk of harming yourself or others, you can be detained under a section of the Mental Health Act 1983 (in England and Wales). This is often called being sectioned. How long you stay in hospital will depend on your personal situation.

Being treated in hospital can mean you have faster access to treatment, round-the-clock support and are kept safe during a crisis. Some people find hospital a positive experience, while others find it unpleasant as you might be far away from your support network, in an unfamiliar place or admitted against your will.

If you are treated in hospital, it's important to know your rights. Our legal pages on sectioning, voluntary patients and leaving hospital have more information.

Read Karl's experience of crisis care and treatment in hospital.

It began changing for me when one hospital suggested that there was a way forward... they were able to offer me far more time than individuals had.

This information was published in October 2017 – to be revised in 2020. References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information see our page on permissions and licensing.

Mental Health A-Z

Information and advice on a huge range of mental health topics

> Read our A-Z


Helping you to better understand and support people with mental health problems

> Find out more

Special offers

Check out our promotional offers on print and digital booklets, for a limited time only

> Visit our shop today