What is mental ill-health?

Mental ill-health is a broad term that is often used as an umbrella term to incorporate many different mental health problems and mental illnesses.

A mental illness is something which a medical professional will diagnose. It is a disorder that will interfere significantly with a person’s emotional abilities, cognitive abilities and social abilities. There are many different types of mental illness and they can have different degrees of severity.

Examples of mental illness include psychotic disorders (like schizophrenia), mood disorders (like anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder), personality disorders and eating disorders.

Mental health problems are different from mental illnesses as they usually resolve themselves with time or with a situation change. They are usually shorter in duration than mental illnesses and often occur because of life stressors. They can also interfere with an individual’s emotional, social or cognitive abilities and if the mental health problems increase in severity or persist over a longer time period, they could develop into mental illness.

Symptoms of mental health problems

Many people suffer from their mental health from time to time but this only becomes an issue when there are ongoing symptoms that affect your ability to function or cause frequent distress.

Mental illness can cause problems in your day-to-day life, for example in work, at school and in relationships and it can make you miserable. Most of the time, symptoms of mental health problems can be alleviated with a combination of talking therapies (psychotherapy) and medications.

Symptoms of mental health problems are varied but can include:

  • Feeling down or sad
  • Not being able to concentrate or being confused
  • Having worries or fears that are excessive
  • Feeling extreme guilt
  • Having extreme changes in mood between low and high
  • Withdrawing from activities and friends
  • Trouble sleeping, low energy or extreme tiredness
  • Delusions, hallucinations or paranoia
  • Not being able to cope with stress or daily problems
  • Having trouble relating to and understanding people and situations
  • Problems with drugs or alcohol
  • Significant changes in eating habits (overeating or undereating)
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Being excessively angry, hostile or being violent
  • Suicidal thoughts

Also, it is quite possible that a mental health disorder displays itself with physical problems like back pain, headaches or other pains that have no explanation.

Common mental health problems


The main symptoms of depression are low mood and not enjoying things as you once did. These feelings may also be combined with other symptoms like being irritable, tired or tearful. You might also experience changes in appetite, sleep problems, difficulty concentrating and memory problems. People who are depressed will typically have lots of feeling of guilt, worthlessness and other negative thoughts. They will often lack confidence and criticise themselves.

Panic Disorder

The main symptoms of panic disorder and having panic attacks that come without warning and worrying about the occurrence of panic attacks happening. One of the main panic attack symptoms is an increase in heart rate. Panic attacks can happen because of a certain situation (this could be something the person is scared of or seeks to avoid) or there might not be an obvious cause. People who suffer from panic attacks will often adapt their behaviour after having a panic attack and so they are at risk of developing phobias like agoraphobia (the fear of being in a place that is difficult to escape).

Generalised anxiety disorder

The main symptoms of generalised anxiety disorder are having worries that are out of proportion or excessive or finding it difficult to control worries. People with generalised anxiety disorder will often feel irritable and experience physical symptoms like tense muscles, feeling tired or feeling restless. They might also experience sleeping problems or have trouble concentrating.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, often called OCD, is having images, thoughts or impulses that enter into the mind and won’t go away (obsessions) along with a feeling to carry out certain actions (compulsions). Obsessions that are common with this disorder include worrying that something is not safe (like an electric device), worrying about dirt and germs, needing to have things in a certain order and fears of harming someone else. Compulsions that are common with the disorder include repeated checking of things, washing and cleaning to excess, keeping items that others would throw away and repeating words, numbers or acts in a pattern.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

This is often referred to as PTSD and is characterised by physical and psychological symptoms following distressing or threatening events. One very common symptom of PTSD is having distressing and intrusive memories of an event repeatedly. People with PTSD often have flashbacks or nightmares and have physical reactions like sweating and shaking.


In general terms, psychosis means losing contact with reality. Psychosis isn’t a mental illness in its own right but is a symptom of many different mental illnesses.

Experiencing psychosis means that a person experiences things that do not really exist. This could be sensory experiences or having beliefs that aren’t true in reality.

When an individual has a psychotic episode, they may experience delusions or hallucinations, which means they might hear or see things that aren’t there. Psychosis can be incredibly frightening.

Where can I get help?

The NHS provides free mental health services. Sometimes you will need a GP referral to access specific services.

Some mental health issues can be alleviated and managed without the involvement of a GP. There are lots of materials available as well as organisations that offer help.

The NHS website can help you to discover mental health services in your local area. They have a search tool here.

The Time to Change website is a website dedicated to challenging stigma and discrimination of mental health problems in society. They have a useful section on their website where you can look for health and support.

Some other organisations that are useful include the Samaritans, which offer a free 24-hour phone line (116 123). They offer non-judgemental, confidential mental health support. The charity Mind also provides mental health information services that are confidential, helping people to make informed choices with regards to mental health problems and where to get help. Their number is 0300 123 3393.

If you are experiencing suicidal feelings, call 999.