Common Mental Health Conditions
As stated by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE): Common mental health conditions, such as depression, generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and social anxiety disorder, may affect up to 15% of the population at any one time.
There is considerable variation in the severity of common mental health disorders, but all can be associated with significant long-term difficulties or disability. People can experience depression and anxiety problems at different stages over the course of their lifetime.
Experiencing anxiety, that is, feelings of worry, fear or a general sense of unease can be a normal part of our lives at different points. You would not normally need to seek professional help when you have these experiences and they do not necessarily mean you have an anxiety disorder. However, when the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety go on for some time and start to interfere with your ability to function well in your daily life, it can be useful to get professional help to learn to manage the symptoms. If chronic anxiety symptoms are not managed they can increase in severity, leading you to be unable to cope in certain situations, avoiding people or places, and feeling helpless or out of control.
The symptoms of anxiety can vary from person to person, but as a general guide people with chronic anxiety tend to experience the following types of symptoms: (note: this is not an exhaustive list)
- Restlessness - unable to relax; feeling nervous, tense or ‘on edge’
- Mind pre-occupied with negative thoughts, worry or fearing the worst
- Difficulty concentrating or focussing on tasks – can also affect memory
- Tense muscles &/or headaches
- Palpitations/shortness of breath
- Sweating or hot flushes
- Nausea – feeling sick; discomfort in stomach
- Needing the toilet more/less frequently
- Experiencing panic attacks (see description under ‘Panic Disorder’ below)
Depending on the nature and severity of their anxiety symptoms, people can be diagnosed with one or more anxiety disorder. Here are some useful links for understanding the different diagnoses:
Panic Disorder (Panic Attacks)
A person with panic disorder experiences sudden attacks of extreme anxiety and fear that seem to come ‘from nowhere’ or ‘out of the blue’. These are called panic attacks and can last for a few minutes or longer. During a panic attack the person can experience strong physical sensations in their body and interpret this to mean something drastic is happening to them such as a heart attack or losing control. When they have one or more panic attacks the person lives in fear of repeated attacks and so starts to avoid the situations they associate with this experience. It should be noted though, that not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop Panic Disorder.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of Panic Disorder here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Panic-disorder/Pages/...
A person with Agoraphobia avoids ordinary places, situations or activities which they previously might have gone to or enjoyed. It usually starts with a situation in which they experienced a panic attack in the past and then generalises to other situations in which they fear getting further panic attacks and being unable to get away quickly, such as in shopping centres or on public transport. About one in three people with Panic Disorder develops Agoraphobia. It is also possible to have Agoraphobia without a history of Panic Disorder.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of Agoraphobia here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Agoraphobia/Pages/Int...
Generalised Anxiety Disorder (Worry)
A person who suffers with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD) feels in a constant state of anxiety, which may be described as ‘chronic worrying’. It is different from “normal worry” in that the worry is prolonged (it lasts for over 6 months), and is out of proportion to the situation or likelihood of what they are worrying about actually happening. Also, when one issue has been resolved the person with GAD tends to then worry about something else. This type of anxiety may also be described as ‘free floating anxiety’ in that, unlike a phobia, the fear is not related to a specific situation or event, but more a general sense of dread or feeling of unease, making it difficult for them to relax.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of GAD here: http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/anxiety/Pages/Introdu...
A person who has Health Anxiety is constantly pre-occupied with the idea that they have or might develop a serious physical illness. They tend to regularly check their body for symptoms and can convince themselves that any physical symptom is an indication of their feared illness. They may seek medical reassurance but then continue to have the fear of the illness even after being informed there is nothing to be concerned about. Health anxiety may also be called ‘hypochondria’ or ‘illness phobia’.
You can read about the symptoms and treatment of Health Anxiety here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/hypochondria/pages/in...
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A person with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) experiences severe anxiety as a result of their symptoms of obsessions, compulsions, or both. Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, images, urges or doubts that keep coming to their mind and feel uncontrollable; like thinking they have been contaminated by germs, or that someone they love will get hurt, or they have forgotten to do something which will lead to a disaster. Compulsions are behaviours that the person feels the urge to repeat over and over again, usually in order to prevent their feared consequences; like repeatedly checking a door or window is locked or taps are turned off, or putting things in a specific order, or saying a specific phrase repeatedly in your head.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of OCD here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Obsessive-compulsive-...
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A person can develop Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after they have experienced or witnessed a shocking, dangerous or life-threatening event, such as natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, military combat, physical or sexual assault in adult or childhood, sudden death of a loved one. Most people will experience a range of common reactions following a trauma, and most people naturally recover from these symptoms after a period of about 3 months. But some people can continue to experience problems and may be diagnosed with PTSD. They experience three different kinds of symptoms; re-living the trauma in some way such as becoming upset when something triggers their memory of the event; avoiding people or places that remind them of the trauma, isolating themselves from others, or feeling numb; being hyper vigilant, easily startled, irritable.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of PTSD here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/Post-traumatic-stress...
A person with Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia) gets extremely anxious and self-conscience about being in social situations, so they experience intense discomfort when they are in such situations or avoid them altogether. This is more than the usual nervousness most people feel for example when having to speak in public. A person with social anxiety tends to fear more than one social situation. They may experience extreme ‘anticipatory anxiety’ of a forthcoming event. They often believe other people can ‘see’ their anxiety and are usually afraid of being judged or criticised by others, or worried about making mistakes and embarrassing or humiliating themselves in front of others. This can affect their work life as well as personal and social relationships.
You can read more about the symptoms and treatment of Social Anxiety Disorder here: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/social-anxiety/pages/...
Although we can all have periods of feeling a bit low in mood or sad after a loss, clinical depression is different in that it is an ongoing period (at least two weeks) of persistent feelings of sadness, emptiness, hopelessness and worthlessness.
Symptoms of depression including the following:
- Low mood or feelings of emptiness for most of the day, nearly every day
- Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, worthlessness
- Loss of interest or pleasure for things they enjoyed before
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Significant increase or decrease in appetite
- Sleeping problems – trouble falling asleep; early morning awakening; sleeping too much
- Not wanting to live – suicidal thoughts/plans/attempts
- Problems with concentration, memory, or decision-making
Here are some useful links for understanding the symptoms and possible treatments for depression: