Mental Health Simplified

Mental Health is a much wider, diverse subject than many actually realise and whilst it can be very confusing at the more in-depth scientific end, that which the majority of us need to understand, is relatively straight forward and only made more complicated by…us!

We ALL have Mental Health the same as we have Physical Health, it is important that we take care with our use of terminology connected to this subject and understand the impact that incorrect use may have to an individual. Mental Wellbeing is how we look after our minds and that which impacts our minds, on a daily basis.

Mental health is part of our overall health. It’s about:

  • How we feel, think, and behave

  • How we cope with the ups and downs of everyday life

  • How we feel about ourselves and our life

  • How we see ourselves and our future

  • How stress affects us

  • How we deal with negative events

  • Our self-esteem and confidence


Mental Illness

It is useful to recognise that 'mental health' and 'mental illness' are not the same thing. With our physical health we may feel unwell but this does not necessarily mean we have a serious illness, our mental health is no different. 

It is also vitally important to recognise that mental illnesses can only be diagnosed by an appropriatley qualified clinician or health care professional. Mental Illnesses, also known as Conditions or Disorders, can be difficult to diagnose. It is also common for more than one condition to be diagnosed, doctors often refer to this using the technical term 'comorbidity'. In simple terms many conditions can contribute to development of others.

There are a vast number of mental health conditions but it is generally recognised across public health experts that 5 conditions known as Common Mental Disorders (CMD) affect more people than other mental health conditions. 



The main symptoms are feeling 'low' and losing pleasure in things that were once enjoyable. These symptoms may be combined with others, such as feeling tearful, irritable or tired most of the time, changes in appetite, and problems with sleep, concentration and memory. People with depression typically have lots of negative thoughts and feelings of guilt and worthlessness; they often criticise themselves and lack confidence.


The main symptoms are having a number of different worries that are excessive and out of proportion to a particular situation, and having difficulty in controlling one's worries. A person with generalised anxiety disorder may also feel irritable and have physical symptoms such as restlessness, feeling easily tired, and having tense muscles. They may also have trouble concentrating or sleeping.

Panic Disorder

The main symptoms are having unexpected and recurring panic attacks, and also worrying about having another panic attack. One of the symptoms of a panic attack is an increased heart rate. A panic attack may happen because of a particular situation (something that the person fears or wants to avoid), or it may have no obvious cause. People who have panic attacks often change their behaviour as a consequence of the attack, which may develop into phobias such as agoraphobia (a fear of being in places or situations that are difficult to escape from).

Obsessive-compulsive Disorder

The main symptoms are having thoughts, images or impulses that keep coming into the mind and are difficult to get rid of (called obsessions), and a strong feeling that the person must carry out or repeat certain physical acts or mental processes (called compulsions). Common obsessions include being afraid of dirt and germs, worrying that something is not safe (such as an electrical appliance), wanting to have things in a particular order, and thoughts and fears of harming someone else. Common compulsions include excessive washing and cleaning, checking things repeatedly, keeping objects that other people might throw away, and repeating acts, words or numbers in a pattern.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder

Psychological and physical symptoms that can sometimes follow particular threatening or distressing events. One of the most common symptoms of PTSD is having repeated and intrusive distressing memories of the event. There may also be a feeling of reliving the event through flashbacks or nightmares. There can also be physical reactions, such as shaking and sweating.

Source: 'Common mental health problems: identification and pathways to care' National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2011) - click here for source document.