Mental Health: An Overview

Everything you need to know about mental illnesses, including their diagnosis, treatment and more.

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What is mental health?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as

"A state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community".

They add that mental health is "an integral and essential component" of overall health, and so give mental health every bit as much weight as physical health.

Mental health is about more than mental disorders or disabilities. Mental health is, amongst other things, what enables us to effectively think, feel, or even interact with one another.

Poor mental health is, according to the WHO, often associated with:

  • Sudden or rapid changes in circumstances
  • Stressful or toxic work conditions
  • Discrimination of any form
  • Social exclusion
  • Unhealthy lifestyles
  • Physical illness
  • Personality traits
  • Genetic factors

What is mental illness?

Mental illness refers to a wide range of conditions that directly affect mental health. Mental illnesses can affect mood, behaviour, thinking and sometimes all three at once. Just like physical illness, mental illness can affect anyone of any age, sex or race.

Mental illnesses categorically cannot be overcome with willpower alone, to suggest that they can is to misunderstand the potency of some mental illnesses, and to discredit the individual struggle of the mental illness sufferer.

Is mental illness common?

A UK government survey from 2014 revealed the following:

  • One in six adults meet the criteria for common mental disorders
  • One in five women report common mental illness symptoms
  • One in eight men report common mental illness symptoms
  • Women are more likely than men to report severe symptoms of mental illness
  • Since 2000, rates of mental illness in women have steadily increased, but remained stable in men
  • Mental illness is most common in people living alone, with poor physical health or without stable employment

What are the common signs of mental illness?

According to the American Psychiatry Association, if any of the following symptoms are occurring and visible, you should speak to a doctor:

  • Dramatic changes in sleeping or appetite
  • Rapid, unpredictable changes in mood or depressed feelings
  • Sudden urge to withdraw socially
  • Loss of interest in or engagement with activities previously enjoyed
  • Difficulty performing familiar tasks at school, work or home
  • Raised sensitivity to sights, sounds, smells or touch
  • Difficulty with concentration, memory or logical thought
  • Loss of initiative or desire to participate in any activity
  • Avoidance of overstimulating situations
  • Feeling disconnected from yourself or your surroundings
  • Strong illogical or unwarranted feelings or intuitions
  • Fear or suspicion of others with little evidence
  • Out of character or otherwise peculiar behaviour