Marie Claire Dorking and Hannah Millington
Mon, 15 May 2023 at 3:58 pm BST
With more celebrities opening up about their mental health experiences, as well as new NHS initiatives being launched, awareness is improving. But while this is a step in the right direction, struggling with your mental health can still be overwhelming. A range of help is at hand, you just need to know where to find it.
Here we outline three of the UK’s most common mental health conditions and explain what to do if you or someone you know is affected.
Read more: When is Mental Health Awareness Week and what is this year’s theme?
UK’s most common mental health issues
Anxiety is the UK’s most common mental health problem, with 49% of people suffering from anxiety in the last five years, according to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).
Feeling anxious is a normal emotion, but it becomes an issue when someone finds they are feeling this way most or all of the time. If you do, you might have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD).
Symptoms can include feeling restless or worried, having trouble concentrating or sleeping, dizziness and heart palpitations.
According to Mentalhealth.org, 4-10% of people in England will experience depression in their lifetime.
Mind describes depression as a low mood that lasts for a long time, and affects your everyday life.
“In its mildest form, depression can mean just being in low spirits,” the site explains. “It doesn’t stop you leading your normal life but makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile.”
But at its most severe, depression can be life-threatening because it can make you feel suicidal.
Symptoms include feeling down, upset or tearful; feeling isolated and unable to relate to other people; lacking confidence and feeling hopeless.
According to Mind, there are also some specific forms of depression including:
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) – depression that occurs at a particular time of year.
- Dysthymia – continuous mild depression that lasts for two years or more. It is also referred to as persistent depressive disorder or chronic depression.
- Prenatal depression – depression that occurs during pregnancy.
- Postnatal depression (PND) – depression that occurs in the weeks and months after becoming a parent. Though postnatal depression is usually diagnosed in women, it can also affect men.
Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, where someone experiences extreme highs and lows.
Bipolar is the fourth most common mental health problem worldwide after depression, anxiety and schizophrenia with statistics showing one in every 100 people will be diagnosed with the condition at some point in their life.
While all of us will have variations in our mood, for those living with bipolar disorder the changes can be very distressing and have a major impact on their life.
High or ‘manic’ periods can involve people feeling euphoric, excited, over-confident, ambitious or adventurous, a feeling of being invincible, but can also include not feeling like eating or sleeping.
Meanwhile, low periods typically involve symptoms of depression.
How to help someone experiencing a mental health condition
It can be difficult to know how to help, but experts suggest taking a sensitive approach.
“If you think someone has a mental health problem, it is important to seek help early, either through mental health charities or your GP,” advises Dr Dane Vishnubala, chief medical officer at Active IQ.
“Sometimes it’s hard to pin down what the problem is but the first step is to listen to them and support them to access the professional help they need. This is likely to include talking therapies and medication which are both known to help.”
Educate yourself and share your findings
Often the best way to help is to educate yourself about the symptoms and mental health issue they might have, and then share your findings with them.
“Communicate as openly as you can, but also conduct your own research by reading as much as you can on the condition and find out what other people have experienced,” suggests Niels Eék, clinic psychologist and co-founder at personal development and mental wellbeing app, Remente.
“The more you know, the more support you will be able to offer. Once they understand that what they are going through is normal, and that you care, they are more likely to open up and speak to you, without being afraid of disappointing you.”
Acknowledge how they’re feeling
You don’t have to be a mental health professional to know what to do or how to help. “Offering a listening ear and words of support and reassurance go a long way,” says Dr Pablo Vandenabeele, clinical director for mental health at Bupa UK.
But consider your words carefully.
“Sometimes our natural reaction to a person’s admission of mental ill health, may not be the response the situation calls for,” Dr Vandenabeele explains.
“Trying to cheer that person up or make light of the situation with comments such as ‘You’ll feel better when the weather gets warmer’ or ‘It’s not so bad – things could be a lot worse…’ could undermine the other person’s feelings and close down the dialogue.”
Instead, he suggests keeping questions open ended, such as ‘Is there anything you would like to talk to me about?’
“Let them speak at their own pace and show that you’re there to guide them towards support,” he adds.
Listen without judgement
There is nothing more demoralising when you are speaking with someone that is clearly not listening. “Even if you might not always be able fully to understand, you can still support your friend by paying attention to his or her tone of voice and body language, without being too critical of them or overbearing in your worry,” explains Eék.
“While you might feel the urge to advise them or to impart knowledge, they want to know that they can speak to you, and that you acknowledge their feelings, without judging them. Knowing that you are there for them, supporting them, can do a lot to help someone suffering from mental health issues.”
Encourage them to seek help
The most important thing you can do for someone affected by a mental health condition is to urge them to seek the help they need. “Tell them to speak to their GP so that they can put together a personalised plan of action and treatment,” Dr Vandenabeele advises. “Mental health can and should be treated in the same way as physical health.”
Look after yourself
It can be stressful to support a friend who’s struggling with their mental health, so it is essential that you’re careful to look after your own mental health too. “If you feel you need support, you should contact your GP and address your issues at an early stage,” advises Eék.
Other than speaking to your GP about what support or treatment might be best for you, you can refer yourself to an NHS talking therapy.
You can also find support from charities. For information contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more urgent help call Samaritans on 116 123 or text SHOUT to 85258.