Mental Health Guides
One in four people in the UK suffer from poor mental health. Sometimes it can be difficult to see and it can be even more difficult to talk about.
Here is some basic information about the most common mental health issues I can support with. If you have any questions about therapy for yourself a loved one please do get in touch.
What is abuse?
Abuse is a misuse of power intended to harm or control another person. Abuse can be physical, verbal, or emotional and can leave psychological wounds that are harder to heal than bodily injuries.
Even after the abuse has stopped, survivors can still experience distress and have a higher risk of poor mental health. They may experience one or more of the following issues:
- Mood Issues
- Posttraumatic Stress (PTSD)
- Self-Destructive Behaviour
- Trust Issues
While abuse can lead to mental health concerns, not every case results in extreme distress. The severity of the consequences can depend on the situation. Yet the effects of abuse do not have to be permanent. A therapist can help abuse survivors overcome challenges and address symptoms.
What are addiction and substance misuse?
Although many people associate addiction issues with alcohol or drug use, a person can become addicted to any substance or activity that provides a thrill or ‘high’. If you feel physically or psychologically dependent on seeking that ‘high’ despite the harmful impact it has on your day to day functioning or health, you may be suffering from an addiction. Some of the symptoms of addiction include:
- Excess use
- Inability to manage everyday life without the substance or activity
- Mood swings
- Change in performance
- Escalating financial problems
Substance misuse refers to repetitive use of a substance in a way that is damaging for an individual and can lead to dependence on a substance. Dependence involves developing a tolerance for the substance over time and going through withdrawal symptoms without it. Examples of substances that are often misused include:
- Non-prescription/illegal drugs
- Prescription drugs
Behavioural addictions occur when behaviours are used excessively to help the person cope with difficult thoughts and feelings. Examples of addictive behaviours include:
- Compulsive shopping
- Internet use
If you feel that the above applies to you, you may benefit from therapy to help you battle your addiction.
What are anger & anger issues?
Anger is a common emotion and while anger itself is not necessarily harmful as a response to some situations, chronic (ongoing) and uncontrolled anger can interfere with your overall health. In severe cases, it may even harm your interpersonal relationships and career.
Anger can be a result of pent-up or unresolved issues over time, trauma, or even a symptom of seemingly unrelated issues like depression. Anger may be a symptom in some mental health conditions, including:
- antisocial personality disorder
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- bipolar disorder
- dissociative disorders, such as from trauma
- intermittent explosive disorder
- oppositional defiant disorder
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- sleep disorders
If you feel like you’re constantly angry and that your anger has taken over your life, it may be time to explore therapy. Or you may be dealing with someone in your life who is frequently angry. You may want to help your loved one with their uncontrollable anger, while also helping yourself navigate your own emotions. The overall goal of therapy is to help learn strategies to change behaviours towards anger triggers and manage anger in better ways.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is a basic, fundamental emotion that we all experience when our bodies anticipate threat or danger. However, for various reasons, sometimes people can miscalculate the danger of a situation and may experience anxiety issues that are out of proportion to the actual event. If your feelings of worry and stress occur often, for a long period of time, or feel as though they are consuming you, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Although not all of the following will apply to you, some of the most common symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Noticeably strong, fast, or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
- Trembling or shaking
- Dry mouth
- Stomach ache
- Feeling nauseous
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of appetite
- Terror / fear
However, specific symptoms depend on the type of anxiety disorder you suffer from, as anxiety can take the form of:
- Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD)
- Panic disorder
- Health anxiety
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
If you feel that any of the above applies to you, know that you are not alone, as anxiety is one of the most common issues and you can benefit greatly from therapy.
What is bereavement?
Bereavement is the name given to describe the sense of loss we feel when a loved one passes away. When you are grieving, it is normal to feel a range of emotions such as sadness, anger, anxiety and guilt, but sometimes bereavement can be particularly overwhelming or bring up feelings that are difficult to manage. If you are experiencing ‘complicated bereavement’, this can cause you to become withdrawn, angry, or even experience symptoms of depression.
Some common symptoms of typical bereavement include:
- Intense sorrow and pain at the thought of your loved one
- Focus on little else but your loved one’s death
- Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or avoidance of reminders
- Difficulties accepting the death
- Numbness and/or detachment
- Feeling that life has no purpose
- Irritability or agitation
- Lack of trust in others
- Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
If these symptoms do not improve over time it might be helpful to seek therapy.
Some of the signs that your bereavement might be more complicated might be:
- Having trouble carrying out normal routines or activities
- Withdrawal from social activities
- Thoughts of guilt or self-blame
- Persistent belief you did something wrong/could have prevented the death
- Loss of sense of purpose in life
- Feeling that life isn’t worth living without your loved one
- Wish that you had died along with your loved one
If you experience these symptoms, therapy can be helpful in understanding your loss and how it has impacted you and your life.
What is meant by a complicated or stressful life event?
Sometimes we can have difficulties adjusting or getting used to life following a recent stressful event and/or significant change in life (e.g. bereavement, divorce, separation or a relationship ending, serious illness or health issues in yourself or among friends or family, loss of employment, financial hardships, moving to a different home, country or city or other unexpected catastrophes or general life changes).
We can find it hard to cope, or plan ahead and experience tension, anxiety or depressed mood as a result. Some of us suffer from physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach-aches, fatigue or dizziness in the time following this stressful event or change, or feel we do not want to be around other people or deal with everyday activities.
Low levels of stress are normal, most of us experience this; this form of stress can be useful to us at times to help us focus on a goal or to highlight something that needs to change. However, on-going stress can cause problems and make us feel physically unwell. Sometimes change can be much harder for a person to cope with and it is very difficult to carry on. When this goes beyond the usual range of difficulty it can be called an ‘Adjustment Disorder’.
The problems can be in reaction to one or more significant and stressful events or life changes. Such stressful life events or changes can affect you in a number of ways. You might:
- Become distressed or preoccupied with the stressful event or life change
- Feel low or depressed in mood
- Feel anxious and worried
- Feel overwhelmed or unable to cope
- Experience physical symptoms (such as insomnia, headache, abdominal pain, chest pain, palpitations, tiredness, dizziness, muscle tension or pain, concentration difficulties, loss of appetite)
- Feel socially withdrawn or unable to carry out everyday activities and notice an impact on your work or academic performance
If you experience these symptoms, therapy can be helpful in understanding your feelings, how they are impacting on your life and how you can find ways to start to move forward.
What is depression?
We all feel sad and fed up occasionally, whether it be in response to an upsetting experience or for no reason at all. However, if you are feeling this way for weeks or months, rather than just a few days, you may be suffering with depression. Although depression can affect people in different ways and there are different levels of severity, some common symptoms of depression include:
- Continuous low mood or sadness
- Feeling hopeless or helpless
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling guilt-ridden
- Feeling irritable and intolerant of other people
- Having no motivation or interest in things
- Feeling indecisive
- Not getting enjoyment out of life
- Feeling anxious or worried
- Having suicidal thoughts or thoughts of harming yourself
- Lack of energy or interest in sex
- Change in appetite
- Disturbed sleep (sleeping too much or sleeping too little)
However, symptoms might be specific to the type of depression you are experiencing as there are several sub-types including:
- Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-natal depression
What is dissociation?
Many people experience dissociation at some point in their lives and it can be caused by lots of different things. You might dissociate when you are very stressed, or after something traumatic has happened to you. You might have symptoms of dissociation as part of another mental health issue like anxiety. For many people, these feelings will pass over time.
If you dissociate you might feel like you are not connected to your own body. Or like you are watching things happen around you, without feeling them. Some of the symptoms of dissociation include:
- Amnesia (memory loss) – losing memories of things that have happened
- Depersonalisation – feeling disconnected from your own body
- Derealisation – feeling disconnected from the world around you
- Identity confusion – losing a sense of who you are
- Loss of feelings or emotion
- Losing control of your body movements
You might have these symptoms for as long as the event that triggered them, or for a short time afterwards. This is called an episode. For some people, these symptoms can last for much longer. If you have a dissociative disorder you might experience these symptoms for long episodes or even constantly. There are different things that can cause you to dissociate, for example:
- Traumatic events
- Difficult problems that cause stress
- Difficult relationships
- Some researchers have suggested that the use of cannabis may be a cause of depersonalisation/derealisation
What is an eating disorder?
Eating disorder is the general name given to a group of disorders that negatively affect attitudes and behaviour towards eating and food. The pressures of modern society can make a person feel very insecure about their appearance and give them a distorted view of what their body should look like and what it does currently look like. If you spend a lot of time focusing on your weight and find yourself making unhealthy choices, such as over-exercising, restricting the food you eat and/or obsessively calorie counting, or other behaviours such as purging to control your weight, you may be suffering from an eating disorder.
There are different types of eating disorder with the most common being:
- Anorexia nervosa – a person tries to keep their weight as low as possible, often by excessively restricting the food they are eating and/or exercising too much
- Bulimia – a person goes through periods of binge eating and is then deliberately sick or uses laxatives to control their weight
- Binge eating disorder – a person eats large amounts of food in a short time and feels unable to control themselves
- EDNOS (eating disorder not otherwise specified) a person may be diagnosed with a mixed presentation of these symptoms
Although there are some symptoms that are specific to the type of eating disorder, the most common symptoms of an eating disorder are:
- Negative perception of your own body
- Constantly weighing yourself
- Dissatisfaction with body parts
- Food restriction
- Compulsive exercise
- Need for perfection
- Fear of being fat
- Excess eating
These attitudes and behaviours can really damage your mental and physical health and it is important to seek help if you feel that the above applies to you or someone you know.
If you are suffering from an eating disorder depending on its type and severity you might require a multi-disciplinary approach to treatment, but therapy can greatly help to improve your quality of life.
Life coaching & self-development
Olympic athletes know that they need someone to help them set goals, believe in them, motivate them, challenge them, and give them feedback. Life Coaching does the same thing, but with a chosen aspects of your personal life. Life Coaching for personal development can help you set and achieve your goals and find greater fulfilment.
Taking decisions and making changes can feel really scary and therapy can provide the encouragement and the motivation you need to help you keep going. Whether it is achieving a work-life balance, improving your relationships, or finding a meaningful role in life, therapy will support you to move forward and take those first steps.
What is obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?
OCD is a common anxiety disorder in which a person has obsessive thoughts and feel they have to engage in compulsive activities to manage these thoughts and neutralise their anxiety, even if they find the compulsions upsetting. An obsession is a persistent, unwanted thought, image or urge that is very difficult or impossible to block out, causing feelings of anxiety, disgust or unease. A compulsion is a repetitive behaviour (which could also be mental) that someone feels they have to carry out to calm the obsessive thoughts.
The typical cycle of OCD is:
- an unwanted thought, image or urge repeatedly enters your mind
- the obsession provokes intense anxiety and distress
- repetitive behaviours or mental acts are performed to bring about relief to the distress or anxiety
- the compulsive behaviour only brings about temporary relief but the anxiety and obsession soon return
The severity of OCD symptoms can vary greatly. For some people, symptoms can come and go, whereas other sufferers are unable to carry out everyday activities because their compulsions are so time-consuming, or for fear of being triggered.
If you feel that the above applies to you, therapy can greatly improve your day to day functioning and quality of life by helping you to understand your condition and teaching you effective coping strategies.
What are panic attacks?
Panic attack is the name given to a group of symptoms that occur when a person is experiencing extreme anxiety. People who suffer from panic disorder have regular and recurring panic attacks often for no apparent reason. If you are having a panic attack you may experience psychological symptoms including an overwhelming sense of fear, apprehension and anxiety. You might also experience physical symptoms such as:
- Sensation that your heart is beating irregularly (palpitations)
- Hot flushes
- Shortness of breath/choking sensation
- Chest pain
- Numbness or pins and needles
- Feeling of dread or fear of dying
- Tingling sensation in your fingers
During a panic attack some people experience ‘depersonalisation’, which is where you feel totally detached from the situation, your body and your surroundings.
Sometimes the symptoms of a panic attack can be so intense that you might feel like you are having a heart attack. Because the physical symptoms of a panic attack can be so unpleasant, people who are prone to experiencing panic attacks become very scared in anticipation of the next attack, which creates a vicious cycle of anticipatory anxiety and further adds to the panic.
Most panic attacks last between 5 to 20 minutes. The severity and frequency of panic attacks varies between individuals. Some people might have panic attacks once or twice a month whilst others might experience them several times a week.
If you feel that the above applies to you, therapy can help you to understand how and why panic attacks happen and can teach you effective strategies to overcome them.
What is Pet bereavement?
As with any bereavement the death of a much-loved pet can be devastating. They are a member of the family, a companion, a best friend. If you were close to your pet it is normal to have a reaction similar to the loss of a human loved one i.e. shock, disbelief, numbness, anger, pain, hurt, sadness, guilt and overwhelming grief.
It can sometimes be hard for others to recognise the extent to which the loss of your beloved pet may be affecting you, but as with any bereavement it is important for you to have someone to talk to who does understand exactly how you are feeling and what the loss has meant to you.
Therapy can provide support for anyone whose pet has died or who has lost a pet in other ways. Please do not feel alone and isolated – there are people who understand and will support you through your loss.
What are sleep disorders?
Everyone has trouble sleeping from time to time, especially with so much going on in our lives, but getting regular good quality sleep is so important for us both physically and mentally.
If you are regularly struggling with your sleep patterns you may be suffering from a sleep disorder. One of the most common types of sleep disorder is insomnia which is characterised by an inability to sleep or sleep well at night.
Some common symptoms of insomnia include:
- Difficulty falling asleep at night or getting back to sleep after waking during the night
- Waking up frequently during the night
- Needing to take something (for example sleeping pills) in order to get to sleep
- Waking up feeling unrefreshing and low in energy
- Tiredness and low energy during the day
There are also other types of sleep disorder such as sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome and narcolepsy.
Therapy can greatly help to improve your sleep pattern awareness and explore effective strategies for managing your sleep.
What is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is an anxiety disorder that can develop in response to experiencing a traumatic event. Some examples of traumatic events that might cause PTSD include natural disasters, terror attacks, violence, abuse, severe neglect, or traffic accidents, but a traumatic event can be any experience where you are in danger, or you witness someone else in danger.
People suffering from PTSD often relive the triggering event through vivid nightmares and/or flashbacks that can occur at any time. The unpleasantness and severity of their symptoms can make it very difficult for sufferers to go about their everyday activities. Although symptoms usually develop immediately after the event, individuals who have experienced abuse, neglect, or violence, may experience complex PTSD, where trauma occurred during childhood but there are no symptoms until years later.
Some common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Re-experiencing such as flashbacks, nightmares, repetitive images or sensations and physical sensations (including nausea, pain, sweating, or trembling)
- Avoidance and emotional numbing
- Hyper-arousal including irritability, angry outbursts, sleeping problems, difficulty concentrating
- Sometimes individuals suffering from PTSD can suffer from other emotional difficulties such as anxiety, depression, self-harm or engage in substance misuse.
If you feel that the above applies to you, therapy can help you to overcome your condition and greatly improve your day to day functioning and quality of life.
What are phobias?
A phobia is a crippling fear of an object, place, situation or animal involving an unrealistic perception of danger or threat. Sometimes phobias can become so severe that a person might organise their life around avoiding the situation or object that causes them anxiety. This can greatly affect the person’s day to day functioning and restrict them from carrying out everyday activities such as going to the shops, for fear of coming across the object of their phobia. There are different types of phobia (simple and complex).
Some examples of simple phobias are:
- Animal – such as rodents, dogs, spiders, birds and others
- Bodily – such as blood, vomit or injections
- Environmental – such as heights, deep water and germs
- Sexual – such as performance anxiety or fear of sexually transmitted diseases
- Situational – such as flying or going to the doctor
Some examples of complex phobias are:
- Agoraphobia – fear of open spaces, crowded places, traveling or public transport
- Social phobia (social anxiety) – fear of social situations
We all experience fear to a degree but when phobias impede normal day to day functioning therapy can be very effective at working through fears in a structured and supportive way.
Meaningful, healthy relationships play a vital role in our overall well-being. Therapy can help improve the way you relate to those around you and allow you to break free from old patterns of behaviour. Therapy can provide a supportive and non-judgmental environment to help identify issues or problems in a relationship or relationships, find a way through the difficulties and develop meaningful, lasting connections.
What is low self-esteem?
Self-esteem is the opinion we have of ourselves. When we have healthy self-esteem, we tend to feel positive about ourselves and about life in general. It makes us better able to deal with life’s ups and downs. When our self-esteem is low, we tend to see ourselves and our life in a more negative and critical light. We also feel less able to take on the challenges that life throws at us.
What causes low self-esteem?
- Low self-esteem often begins in childhood. Our teachers, friends, siblings, parents, and even the media send us positive and negative messages about ourselves. The message that you are not good enough is the one that stays with you.
- Perhaps you found it difficult to live up to other people’s expectations of you, or to your own expectations.
- Stress and difficult life events, such as serious illness or a bereavement, can have a negative effect on self-esteem.
- Personality can also play a part. Some people are just more prone to negative thinking, while others set impossibly high standards for themselves.
If you have low self-esteem or confidence, you may hide yourself away from social situations, stop trying new things, and avoid things you find challenging. In the short term, avoiding challenging and difficult situations might make you feel safe. In the longer term, this can backfire because it reinforces your underlying doubts and fears.
What is self-harm and self-destructive behaviour?
Often in response to extreme emotional turmoil, self-harm refers to the intentional damage or injury on a person’s own body. People who self-harm often talk about a need to punish themselves or release overwhelming tension.
Social problems, trauma and psychological causes can all contribute to acts of self-harm, as each of these factors can lead to feelings of anger, guilt or self-loathing. The lack of support and people that you can rely on for help and advice, can lead to self-harm feeling like the only way to release such intense emotions.
It is believed that over half of the people who die by suicide have a history of self-harm, and the behaviour can sometimes be a ‘cry for help’, or an expression of distress. This can occur if you have been unable to get your problems across through conventional means of communication, or you have an underlying psychological disorder which causes you to self-harm.
Self-destructive behaviour can take many forms. Some people may self-medicate with drugs or alcohol. Others might engage in self-harm, such as burning or cutting themselves. Others may neglect their personal hygiene or behave in ways that sabotage any potential for meaningful relationships or success. These behaviours can often indicate low self-esteem.
The problems experienced as a result of self-harming and self-destructive behaviour can be very distressing. Therapy can help you to understand your feelings, be aware of your triggers and learn new coping techniques.
Separation & divorce
Some people say that separation from a long-term relationship is one of the toughest experiences in life to deal with. It can be difficult to simply ‘move on’ especially if you have to remain in contact with your ex-partner, for instance, if you have children together. Other situations such as living together can also drag the process out, making it harder for both parties to move on.
Therapy can help make some sense of what seems like a catastrophe. Seeing a therapist after a divorce or separation or during the process of ending a relationship, can offer you a safe and non-judgmental space to think at depth about your relationship, discuss the wide range of feelings and emotions you are experiencing, and gain some sense of how to move forward.
What is Trauma?
Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that will not go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people.
Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it does not involve physical harm. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized. Emotional and psychological trauma can be caused by:
- One-time events, such as an accident, injury, or a violent attack, especially if it was unexpected or happened in childhood.
- Ongoing, relentless stress, such as battling a life-threatening illness or experiencing traumatic events that occur repeatedly, such as bullying, domestic violence, or childhood neglect.
- Commonly overlooked causes, such as surgery (especially in the first 3 years of life), the sudden death of someone close, the breakup of a significant relationship, or a humiliating or deeply disappointing experience, especially if someone was deliberately cruel.
Whatever the cause of your trauma, and whether it happened years ago or yesterday, therapy can help you to make healing changes and move on with your life.