A-Z of Mental Health
Alcoholism and addiction
Alcoholism, alcohol dependence and problem drinking.
Alcohol misuse means excessive drinking – more than the recommended alcohol consumption limit.
Harmful physical and psychological effects of alcohol misuse could lead to:
- Alcohol poisoning
- Liver cirrhosis
- Social isolation
- Recklessness – i.e. drink driving
- Men should not regularly drink more than 3-4 units of alcohol a day.
- Women should not regularly drink more than 2-3 units a day.
- If you’ve had a heavy drinking session, avoid alcohol for 48 hours.
“Regularly” means drinking this amount every day or most days of the week.
Addiction is a strong, uncontrollable need to repeatedly take drugs, drink alcohol, or engage in a non-substance-based activity, including gambling.
Being addicted can dominate your daily life and cause problems at home, work and school.
Addiction has no route cause.
While most people may enjoy occasional drinks socially, use of soft recreational drugs, gambling, others may regularly repeat these behaviours intensely.
You are at greater risk of developing an addiction if:
- Other family members have addiction problems
- You experienced childhood stress/abuse
- You already have mental health problems
Tel: 0800 917 8282 for confidential support on alcoholism and addiction.
Tel: 0300 999 1212
Helpline open 10.00am – midnight
Almost 500,000 people in the UK are affected by the most common type of dementia; Alzheimer’s disease.
Dementia means losing your mental ability through gradual brain cell deterioration.
While Alzheimer’s causes are unclear, various factors are thought to increase risk of developing it, including:
- Family history of Alzheimer’s
- Previous severe head injuries
- Lifestyle factors
- Conditions associated with cardiovascular disease
National Dementia Helpline
Tel: 0300 222 11 22
When we encounter feelings of unease, worry and fear, this is known as anxiety.
The emotions and physical symptoms we may experience when worried or nervous are heightened when we experience anxiety.
This is linked to the fight or flight response; our normal biological reaction to feeling threatened.
Tel: 08444 775 774
Anxiety UK helpline open Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5.30pm
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder
Those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (otherwise known as ADHD) often demonstrate:
- Poor concentration/a short attention span
- Constant fidgeting
- An impulsive nature
While ADHD can affect anyone, it is more common in those with learning disabilities. ADHD sufferers may also develop sleep and anxiety disorders.
Attention deficit hyperactive disorder symptoms are usually spotted early, with most children diagnosed between 6 and 12 years old.
Symptoms may heighten during times of change; i.e. when a child starts school.
Although many adults diagnosed with ADHD at an early age will continue to experience problems, symptoms tend to improve over time.
YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.
Tel: 0808 802 5544 Parent helpline
This website has been developed to support those whose lives are affected by Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – parents/carers and teachers – and also provides resources for children and teenagers themselves, to help them understand and manage the condition.
Experiencing extreme mood swings – ranging from overactive, excited and manic behaviour, to deep depression – is diagnosed as bipolar disorder.
While there may be occasions where you experience visual or auditory hallucinations – seeing/hearing things which others don’t, or expressing unusual and opposing beliefs (known as delusions) – you may also have stable periods.
Bipolar support services
Borderline Personality Disorder
Those with borderline personality disorder (BPD) find that normal thought patterns, feelings and behaviours are difficult to alter, with those experiencing BPD likely to experience limited emotions, attitudes and coping mechanisms suited for everyday life.
If you have BPD you are also likely to maintain similar beliefs and attitudes throughout your life which differ from others, which could isolate you and cause you hurt or insecurity.
You are also less likely to learn from the past and adapt to new situations. This can present challenges for you and others you know, particularly if your behaviour is deemed unusual or unexpected.
Borderline Personality Disorder
Counselling is a type of talking therapy allowing a person to share their problems and feelings comfortably and confidentially.
A trained counsellor will listen, relate to and analyse your negative thoughts and feelings.
Occasionally ‘counselling’ refers to general talking therapies, but counselling is a unique therapy itself.
Counselling and Psychotherapy information
Dementia is a syndrome associated with consistent brain decline.
Dementia symptoms include:
- Memory loss
- Decreased thinking speed
- Decreased mental agility
Risk of developing dementia – which affects around 800,000 people in the UK – increases with age, with the condition usually affecting those over 65.
Tel: 020 7697 4160
The term ‘I feel depressed’ is commonplace when feeling sad or miserable about life, but these feelings usually pass.
However, when these feelings are constant or recur, it could mean you’re medically depressed.
Mild depression can simply mean feeling low and doesn’t affect your normal life, albeit it can make life harder and seem less worthwhile.
Severe depression (clinical depression) can be life-threatening and lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide itself. (See ‘Suicide’ in A-Z).
For depression support services, see the Depression Alliance website or call 08457 90 90 90.
Eating disorders can occur when you are no longer eating a regular balanced diet over a sustained period.
While having an eating problem can be challenging, eating disorders arise more often because of emotional pain and issues within your life. Focusing on food can disguise these problems, even from yourself.
Tackling emotional problems and reducing stress can often begin to help counter eating disorders.
For support see the UK’s Eating Disorder Charity website
Hearing a voice when no one is around or seeing things others can’t is a sign of hallucination.
Hallucination symptoms which are often not shared by those around you can also include, unusual:
While many people hear voices, it is a common experience and often doesn’t mean someone is mentally ill or abnormal.
For support and information visit the Hearing Voices Network website
Compulsive hoarding means excessive consumption of items with little or no value.
You may become unable to throw items away, leaving unmanageable clutter.
Hoarding can become a significant problem when:
- Clutter interferes with everyday living – i.e. being unable to access rooms or using the kitchen or bathroom
- Clutter is distressing and affecting ability to function – i.e. impacting social life, employment and in maintaining a safe environment
Sleep problems which last weeks, months or years and which start to have a negative impact on your daily life by affecting your energy and concentration, are often diagnosed as insomnia.
Insomnia can have an impact on your relationships and social life and may also affect your ability to complete your daily routine and tasks including studying, work and chores.
For more information on insomnia visit http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Insomnia/Pages/Introduction.aspx
Medication and Mental Health
Medication can be a short-term solution to recover from a crisis.
However, medication can also be a long-term method which enables those with severe and enduring mental health problems to live without relapses and hospital re-admission.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Obsessive compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder which includes obsessions (recurrent persistent thoughts or images) and compulsions (repetitive behaviours eg. hand washing).
For more information visit the OCD-UK website http://www.ocduk.org/ocd
Panic attacks are scary experiences. They arise after prolonged stress and anxiety and can cause you to hyperventilate by consuming too much oxygen.
While they are often confused with a heart attack, they are not life-threatening.
Coping with Panic Attacks
If you experience panic attacks, try the tips below. They can reduce stress and help panic.
- Breathing exercises – Try breathing deeply into your stomach; then breathe out slowly, making your out-breath longer than your in-breath. Repeat until you feel calm
- Face your fear – Remind yourself that every symptom you experience is caused by anxiety, it isn’t dangerous and it will pass. This can help you feel calmer and less fearful of future attacks
- Shift your focus – Look at a flower, picture or something you find interesting/comforting. Observe the details, colours and any smells/sounds
- Listen to music – Listening to peaceful music can help you keep calm
- Confide in someone – Talk to someone trustworthy about your feelings and who you can easily contact
- Joining support groups – This allows you to share feelings and discuss strategies and can be a useful way of meeting those who understand your experiences
- Keep a diary – Note down what happens each time you become anxious. This can help you identify patterns and triggers for your panic attacks
Paranoia occurs when you encounter suspicious or irrational thoughts and fears which aren’t true.
Paranoia symptoms include:
- Fears that something bad will happen
- Thoughts that others or external causes are responsible
- Having exaggerated or unfounded beliefs
A phobia is an extreme form of fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation, even when there is no danger.
Fear becomes a phobia which lasts more than six months and significantly impacts your daily life.
Phobias can include everything from fears of spiders to going outside. These fears can cause irrational behaviours.
For example, it is often safe to be on a balcony in a high-rise building. However, those with phobias feel terrified to go on the balcony or enjoy the view from inside.
You may also know a spider isn’t poisonous or won’t bite, but it doesn’t reduce your anxiety.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder occurs after experiencing a traumatic event.
If you experience PTSD-related problems for more than six months, you may be diagnosed with the condition.
While distressing feelings may not immediately emerge (initially you may instead feel emotionally numb), you may gradually develop emotional and physical reactions including feeling easily upset or being unable to sleep.
There’s no limit on distress. Some people may not develop PTSD symptoms until years after a traumatic event.
Albeit, not everyone experiencing trauma develops PTSD.
Psychology is the scientific study of the mind, people and behaviour.
When you perceive/interpret events differently from others – including experiencing hallucinations, delusions or flight of ideas – this is called psychosis (also called a psychotic experience/episode).
Schizophrenia is diagnosed if you experience some of the symptoms below:
- A lack of interest in things
- Feeling disconnected from your feelings
- Difficulty concentrating
- Wanting to avoid people
- Hearing voices
- Feeling like you need to be protected
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Depression experienced during a particular time of year or season – including feeling increasingly down during the winter – is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
While it is normal to feel happier and more energetic during summer sunshine, or feeling lower during cold winters, those with SAD will experience much greater mood and energy deficiencies during changing seasons.
SAD is mostly experienced during the winter, but some people can instead encounter more depressive symptoms during the summer.
Hurting yourself to deal with overwhelming feelings, past memories, situations and experiences is diagnosed as self-harm.
Examples of self-harming can include:
- Cutting yourself
- Poisoning yourself
- Eating too much/too little
- Burning your skin
- Inserting objects into your body
- Hitting yourself or walls
- Excessive exercise
- Scratching and hair pulling
You may feel better and cope more easily for a while after self-harming, but it can cause challenging feelings and make you feel worse.
After self-harming, you may feel embarrassed or ashamed.
You may worry others will judge or pressurise you to stop if you tell them and you may instead keep your self-harming a secret. This can be very common, but not everyone does this.
Feeling stressed often occurs when we can’t cope with life events, have too much on our minds, can’t control challenging situations or others make unreasonable demands.
Stress is not a medical diagnosis. Severe and prolonged stress may lead to depression or anxiety diagnoses, or more severe mental health problems.
By being aware of stress triggers and learning to cope by using relaxation techniques or by making lifestyle changes, you can reduce stress.
Suicide – including suicidal thoughts and tendencies – can occur when you can no longer see why you should go on living, when you may hate yourself, believe you are useless and are not wanted by anyone.
Suicidal symptoms also include:
- Having feelings which may seem unbearable
- Feeling angry, shameful or guilty
After many painful experiences or losses, you may blame yourself, feel everything is your fault and that you are a failure, causing you to feel suicidal.
Conflicts with family or friends and enduring emotional pain with no solutions to your problems, may leave you feeling overwhelmed.
Suicidal thoughts can also lead you to feel powerless.
Being unable to change your situation and counter what is distressing you may mean suicide presents the chance to regain control.
Your beliefs could mean you see ‘nothingness’, a desire to be reunited with deceased loved ones and that suicide could cause you to believe reincarnation is a relief and a preference.
While you may not know why you feel suicidal and think you have no reason to want to kill yourself, because of this, you may feel guilty and ashamed and start feeling worse.
However, there are a series of support services which can help you during experiences of suicidal thoughts and tendencies.
If you are feeling suicidal, Samaritans offer emotional support 24 hours a day. You can contact them confidentially by calling 08457 90 90 90 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. See the Samaritans website for more information.
For specialist emotional support and information for those affected by mental illness, call the Saneline mental health helpline on 08457 67 80 00 (available 6pm to 11pm).
You can also contact your GP or visit your local A&E when feeling suicidal. If you have taken an overdose or badly cut yourself, dial 999 immediately.