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What is mental health?

Everyone has 'mental health' and this can be thought of in terms of:

  • how we feel about ourselves and the people around us
  • our ability to make and keep friends and relationships
  • our ability to learn from others and to develop psychologically and emotionally.

Being mentally healthy is also about having the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges we can all face at times in our lives - to have confidence and self-esteem, to be able to take decisions and to believe in ourselves.  It is quite normal to sometimes feel worried, anxious or upset when things don't go as you hope - everyone faces pressure in their lives at certain times

Around 1 in 10 of all young people may experience a mental health problem or disorder where they may need help from a mental health specialist. 

It's important to get help early. Mental health conditions can be treated and getting help early can prevent difficulties from getting more serious.

There are many different types of mental health problems and they affect young people differently and last for different lengths of time.

Almost everyone copes with mental and emotional health issues at some time in their life. This can include depression, self harming, anxiety and stress.

  • There are many reasons -  life events, such as personal loss, bullying, financial difficulties, job difficulties and relationship issues.
  • Some medications are known to cause depressed moods in a significant amount of patients.
  • Some psychiatric disorders feature depression as a main symptom.
  • For some people there can be a physical reason.

Everyone has times when they feel stressed, upset or down - and it's normal to feel disappointed when things don't go as you hoped. These feelings will come and go from time to time and generally, don't last very long.  It is when someone is feeling down, low or depressed, along with other symptoms, for more than a couple of weeks that a person may have depression (sometimes referred to as clinical depression).  Depression is an emotional state of low mood and an overall negative outlook e.g. thoughts, behaviour, feelings and well being.

Depression is a lot more common than most people think. It can affect people of all ages and in many different ways.

Some of the signs and symptoms include:

  • feeling hopeless or worthless
  • a change of eating habits e.g. binge eating, stop eating regularly or not eating at all
  • feeling very tired or on the other hand, agitated and unable to concentrate on anything
  • finding it hard to sleep, to study or to find pleasure in hobbies like losing interest in activities that you once enjoyed and found pleasurable.
  • avoiding friends or feeling like they want to harm themselves.

Depression can happen suddenly as a result of some difficult life experience, or can emerge more slowly, with no clear reason for it, it can be treated and can be manageable.

Either way, it's important to understand that depression is not a weakness, it is a recognised mental health issue and it is important that a person with depression gets help.

Anxiety is a state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasised threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.  

How stress and anxiety affect people

  • Stress and anxiety can affect you physically and mentally - they can make it hard to:
  • Concentrate
  • Take decisions
  • Deal with frustration
  • Control your temper
  • Keep your sense of humour
  • Or they can make a person feel restless and jumpy, to have problems sleeping, to feel breathless, to feel fearful, to have headaches or even to feel sick or dizzy.

When stress or anxiety builds up to the point that the feelings are really strong, some people can also have what are called "panic attacks". They may "freeze" and be totally unable to deal with the situation that is worrying them.

Ideas for relieving stress and anxiety

  • Think about the situations that stress you or make you feel anxious and to plan how you might deal with them differently - visualise the situation going really well and how this might feel.
  • Take decisions one at a time and plan in small steps what you can achieve Remember to have enough to eat and drink and to get enough sleep.
  • Take regular breaks from what you are doing - sometimes it is better to stop, review what the situation is and re-plan rather than battling on to complete something.
  • Going on a training course in assertiveness
  • Complementary therapies and relaxation techniques - for example, yoga and meditation
  • Exercise

Self harm is when people set out to hurt themselves or damage their health deliberately.  Sometimes this is done in secret.  Self harm can include cutting, burning, bruising or poisoning.  

It has been estimated that up to one in ten young people will harm themselves at some point, and it is thought to be more common amongst teenage girls.

It can take many different forms and these include:

  • cutting or burning
  • deliberate bruising including by a person throwing their body against something
  • pulling hair or eyelashes or picking at skin
  • taking an overdose

Some people self-injure or harm themselves on a regular basis whilst others may do it only occasionally, perhaps in response to a stressful or difficult event.

There are different reasons for why some young people may self-harm for example, using self-harm or injury to cope with a specific problem and once this has been resolved, the self harming stops for others, self-harm or injury is the way that they deal with pressure or stress of all kinds.

Feeling in control is often identified as a major factor in why a person may self-harm or injure themselves - and so understanding the stresses and pressures a person is facing, and thinking of ways to reduce these, can be very important in helping someone who is, or feels that they want, to injure themselves.  

Know where to go for help - think about who is the person that can be trusted and I can talk to. If you want self harm support there are a number of websites that offer advice and a place to talk. For example:

National Self Harm NetworkOpens new window or 

PAPYRUS Prevention of Young SuicideOpens new window 

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