Life in the 21st Century can be difficult, so it’s hardly surprising that approximately one in four people in Britain will encounter some kind of mental health problem over the course of a year. While these statistics are intimidating, they need not be frightening; help is at hand from a number of sources, and understanding of mental health is growing each and every day. This guide will help anybody currently living with a mental health ailment, or somebody watching a loved one struggle with such a condition. After all, not all illnesses are visible.
Most Common Mental Health Conditions
Mental health concerns manifest themselves in a variety of different ways, and can affect anybody regardless of gender, race, social standing or age. Five of the most regularly diagnosed mental health conditions in the UK are:
- Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Anxiety affects a great many people on a daily basis (to the point that it has been described as Britain’s Silent Epidemic), usually manifesting itself as a sensation of dread or unease that simply will not leave us alone.
We’ve all left the house and had a sudden moment of panic where we think that we may have left the tap running, the iron plugged in or the door unlocked, or spent an hour worrying about an impending dental appointment. Living with a generalised anxiety disorder is akin to feeling this way all day, every day.
Specialist charity Anxiety UK lists the many and varied physical symptoms of anxiety, which include an increased heart rate, tensions headaches and nausea, and potential treatment options – which range from heart-calming medicinal solutions such as beta blockers to counseling and therapy in an effort to talk through the fears and concerns that so plague those living with the condition.
Winston Churchill memorably coined the phrase Black Dog to describe his depression, and an increasing number of people are experiencing the growls of this unwelcome canine companion.
Clinical depression is a hugely debilitating condition, manifesting itself in a number of different ways unique to each individual. Some people manage to control their depression and still function at home and at the workplace, albeit struggling to take any pleasure from what which formerly engaged and interested them, while for many it renders the sufferer unable to summon the physical energy to get out of bed in the morning.
Undeniably the most dangerous symptom and side-effect of depression can be the feeling of worthlessness that comes with it, with anybody living with the condition frequently feeling like a burden and even suggesting that their friends and family would be better off without them around. Anybody with suicidal thoughts should seek the help immediately, potentially starting with a phone call to The Samaritans or even dialing 999, and seek medical help from their GP – prescription anti-depressant medications are many and varied.
We all have fears and things that we’re not keen on, be it spiders, heights or even the dark. Phobias, however, can be hugely life curtailing, often resulting in a chronic inability to function in daily society.
Tale claustrophobia for example, the fear of confined spaces, which many prevent somebody from boarding a train or even climbing into a car in order to commute to work or for basic life essentials such as shopping. At the other end of the spectrum we have agoraphobia, in which the idea of open spaces could leave somebody unable to leave the comparatively safe confines of their own home. The US President himself, Donald Trump, is a self-confessed mysophobic, meaning that he is phobic of germs and prefers not to touch the hands of others, but that can be a huge problem for people in everyday walks of life – manifesting as a reluctance to hold into a handrail on public transport, for example, or even to breathe the air of heavily populated areas.
Phobias are typically treated by exposure therapy and even hypnosis, though the physical symptoms can be managed by calming the anxiety they inspire through medication.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is another mental illness that is often misunderstood, and sometimes made light of – insisting upon filing your CDs in alphabetical order or eating parts of a meal in a certain order are not symptoms of OCD. Instead, this condition tends to manifest itself in the form of obsessive thoughts, causing a mental and emotional distress that can only be eased by regularly engaging in certain behaviours.
Somebody living with OCD, for example, may be convinced that everything they touch is covered in germs, resulting in the need to wash their hands almost constantly. OCD can affect relationships, as somebody diagnosed with the condition may be adamant that they have caused upset or offence to a loved one, no matter how many times they are assured that this is not the case. OCD can also cause huge anxiety, with somebody living with the condition fixating upon the health and mortality of themselves or those close to them.
Thankfully, OCD can be treated with medication, usually a strain of anti-depressant. Always consult your GP if you have any concerns surrounding this disorder.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Typically associated with the men and women who have completed armed service on behalf of the country, PTSD can actually affect anybody that has experienced a stressful, frightening or distressing event; it is a frequent result of victims of violent crimes such as muggings or assaults, for example.
Somebody diagnosed with PTSD will typically find themselves mentally re-living the experience that triggered the condition over and over, and as a result finding themselves struggling to sleep, avoiding any kind of location or person that may remind them of the incident, and living with an ever-increasing sense of fear and paranoia.
These symptoms should begin to ease after three months. Failure to do so results in the condition being re-diagnosed as Chronic PTSD. Another variation on this debilitating mental illness is Complex PTSD, which revolves around mental trauma inflicted in childhood due to abuse of abandonment from a trusted primary caregiver.
It doesn’t stop here, however. Other common mental health illnesses that afflict a great many people include:
- Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), in which an individual may react to emotional stress or trauma by undergoing a temporary personality and identity change as a coping mechanism. Contrary to common misconceptions, this is not schizophrenia.
- Schizophrenia is a different form of mental psychosis, which often manifests itself in the form of hearing voices and hallucinations.
- Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, in which an individual is prone to substantial changes in mood from frenetic ‘highs’ to lethargic, destructive ‘lows’.
- Personality disorders, which can take root as antisocial personality disorder (APD) or borderline personality disorder (BPD).
No matter what form a struggle with mental health takes, getting the right help is of paramount importance. Thankfully, assistance can be sought from a number of sources.
Mental Health Charities
A number of mental health charities have arisen throughout the country that are doing amazing work to help those living with these debilitating conditions. Some of these organisations are:
- Mind – arguably the most well-known and high-regarded mental health charity of them all, Mind pride themselves on their mission statement that they, “won’t give up until everyone experiencing a mental health problem gets support and respect.”
- The Mental Health Foundation – the MHF focus on the prevention of mental health issues, taking a scientific approach to research and education.
- SANE – focussing their efforts on the #stopstigma hashtag, SANE have worked tirelessly for over thirty years to raise awareness of the battles that many face with their mental health, and eradicate the misconceptions that surround it.
- Together – working alongside individuals living with mental health concerns to help them find employment and accommodation, offering support through any legal proceedings and acting as community advocates where necessary, Together do fantastic work for those in need.
- Young Minds – as the name suggests, Young Minds focus their efforts in particular on assisting teenagers and adolescents that are struggling with their mental health, and offering support and advice to parents.
- Rethink Mental Illness – Rethink Mental Illness is a veritable treasure trove of information for anybody seeking to learn more about any such condition, offering advice and support to anybody who may be in need of their services.
Mental Health Helplines
The most important thing for anybody living with a mental health illness to understand is that they are not alone. A number of helplines are available for anybody struggling with the black dog at their shoulder, with immediate assistance available at the end of a telephone. Some of these include:
- The Samaritans – 116 123
The Samaritans is the famous helpline staffed by trained volunteers, the lines of which remain open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If ever you feel the need to speak to somebody, just pick up the phone and dial – The Samaritans will always be there for you.
- No Panic – 0844 967 4848
If you feel the telltale signs of an anxiety attack creeping up on you, give the qualified professionals at No Panic a call. Open each day from 10am-10pm, this helpline specialises in anxiety disorders.
- CALM – 0800 585858
The Campaign Against Living Miserably offers an active helpline from 5pm until midnight 365 days a year, or a webchat facility during the same hours if you are struggling to verbalise your concerns.
- Supportline – 01708 765200
Supportline’s hours of operation vary, but the specialists at the other end of the telephone here can help through all kinds of mental health crises, including suicidal thoughts, anxiety and self harm.
- The NHS – 999 or 111
The NHS do not have a dedicated crisis line for mental health, but recommend dialling 999 in the event of an emergency, or 111 for non-urgent assistance. Alternatively, you can use this link to find local crisis support services.
Benefits Available to Those Living with a Mental Health Illness
Living with a mental health condition can be truly debilitating, and sometimes you may need assistance in the form of benefits. These are some of the ways in which you can seek government assistance in such circumstances.
- The Government website explains when mental illness is termed as a disability. The site also explains your rights and protection should you be diagnosed with a mental illness while in full-time employment.
- ESA (Employment and Support Allowance) is payable to anybody who is registered as disabled and thus unable to work due to mental illness. If you are aged over 25 and are unable to work due to your mental illness, you can expect to receive £73.10 per week in benefit payments (£57.90 if are you are aged below 25), potentially rising to £109.65 if you are a part of a support group. A Work Capability Assessment will be conducted before your claim can be accepted.
- A PIP (Personal Independence Payment) is an alternative method of support from the DWP. You can still claim for a PIP if you live with a mental health condition even if you are employed, typically at a rate of 65 or £83.10 per week. This will increase by a further £22 or £58 if your mental illness restricts your mobility.
Other Sources of Support
- Mind offer guidance to businesses on how to support employees with mental health concerns, and creating a mentally healthy workplace.
- Rethink provides advice for carers, friends and families of those affected by mental illness.
- The NSPCC and Banardo’s work with children whose parents may have a mental illness.
Lots of sources have been cited in this guide, so take a look below for a summary of all the links to resources that may help you in your battle against mental illness, be that your own or that of your loved ones.