What types are there?
There are many different mental health problems. Some of them have similar symptoms, so you may experience the symptoms of more than one mental health problem, or be given several diagnoses at once. Or you might not have any particular diagnosis, but still be finding things very difficult. Everyone’s experience is different and can change at different times.
This page provides a brief description of a few mental health problems, and explains where you can find more information on them. Our A–Z of mental health has information on many more topics not listed here.
Depression is a feeling of low mood that lasts for a long time and affects your everyday life. It can make you feel hopeless, despairing, guilty, worthless, unmotivated and exhausted. It can affect your self-esteem, sleep, appetite, sex drive and your physical health.
In its mildest form, depression doesn’t stop you leading a normal life, but it makes everything harder to do and seem less worthwhile. At its most severe, depression can make you feel suicidal, and be life-threatening.
Some types occur during or after pregnancy (antenatal and postnatal depression), or may come back each year around the same time (seasonal affective disorder).
To find out more see our pages on:
Anxiety is what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid – particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future.
Occasional anxiety is a normal human experience. But if your feelings of anxiety are very strong, or last for a long time, they can be overwhelming. You might also experience physical symptoms such as sleep problems and panic attacks.
You might be diagnosed with a particular anxiety disorder, such as generalised anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety (social phobia), panic disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). But it’s also possible to experience problems with anxiety without having a specific diagnosis.
The physical effects of anxiety
As part of our #mentalhealthselfie series, Alex vlogs on the powerful physical impact his anxiety had on his body.
A phobia is an extreme form of fear or anxiety triggered by a particular situation (such as going outside) or object (such as spiders), even when it’s very unlikely to be dangerous.
A fear becomes a phobia if the fear is out of proportion to the danger, it lasts for more than six months, and has a significant impact on how you live your day-to-day life.
Eating problems are not just about food. They can be about difficult things and painful feelings which you may be finding hard to face or resolve. Lots of people think that if you have an eating problem you will be over- or underweight, and that being a certain weight is always associated with a specific eating problem, but this is a myth. Anyone, regardless of age, gender or weight, can be affected by eating problems.
The most common eating disorder diagnoses are anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED). But it’s also possible to have a very difficult relationship with food and not fit the criteria for any specific diagnosis.
Views on schizophrenia have changed over the years. Lots of people question whether it’s really a distinct condition, or actually a few different conditions that overlap. But you may still be given this diagnosis if you experience symptoms such as:
- psychosis (such as hallucinations or delusions)
- disorganised thinking and speech
- feeling disconnected from your feelings
- difficulty concentrating
- wanting to avoid people
- a lack of interest in things
- not wanting to look after yourself.
Because psychiatric experts disagree about what schizophrenia is, some people argue that this term shouldn’t be used at all. Others think the name of the condition doesn’t matter, and prefer to just focus on helping you manage your symptoms and meeting your individual needs.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a type of anxiety disorder. The term is often misused in daily conversation – for example, you might hear people talk about being ‘a bit OCD’, if they like things to be neat and tidy. But the reality of this disorder is a lot more complex and serious.
OCD has two main parts: obsessions (unwelcome thoughts, images, urges, worries or doubts that repeatedly appear in your mind; and compulsions (repetitive activities that you feel you have to do to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsession).
Personality disorder is a type of mental health problem where your attitudes, beliefs and behaviours cause you longstanding problems in your life. If you have this diagnosis it doesn’t mean that you’re fundamentally different from other people – but you may regularly experience difficulties with how you think about yourself and others, and find it very difficult to change these unwanted patterns.
There are several different categories and types of personality disorder, but most people who are diagnosed with a particular personality disorder don’t fit any single category very clearly or consistently. Also, the term ‘personality disorder’ can sound very judgemental.
Because of this it is a particularly controversial diagnosis. Some psychiatrists disagree with using it. And many people who are given this label find it more helpful to explain their experiences in other ways.
Bipolar disorder (once called manic depression) mainly affects your mood. With this diagnosis you are likely to have times when you experience: manic or hypomanic episodes (feeling high); depressive episodes (feeling low); and potentially some psychotic symptoms.
Everyone has variations in their mood, but in bipolar disorder these swings can feel very extreme and have a big impact on your life. In between, you might have stable times where you experience fewer symptoms.
What causes mental health problems?
Mental health problems can have a wide range of causes. It’s likely that for many people there is a complicated combination of factors – although different people may be more deeply affected by certain things than others.
For example, the following factors could potentially result in a period of poor mental health:
- childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect
- social isolation or loneliness
- experiencing discrimination and stigma, including racism
- social disadvantage, poverty or debt
- bereavement (losing someone close to you)
- severe or long-term stress
- having a long-term physical health condition
- unemployment or losing your job
- homelessness or poor housing
- being a long-term carer for someone
- drug and alcohol misuse
- domestic violence, bullying or other abuse as an adult
- significant trauma as an adult, such as military combat, being involved in a serious incident in which you feared for your life, or being the victim of a violent crime
- physical causes – for example, a head injury or a neurological condition such as epilepsy can have an impact on your behaviour and mood. (It’s important to rule out potential physical causes before seeking further treatment for a mental health problem).
Although lifestyle factors including work, diet, drugs and lack of sleep can all affect your mental health, if you experience a mental health problem there are usually other factors as well.
“My depression seems to flare up during times when I am stressed and isolated from other people.”
Do mental health problems run in families?
Research suggests that some mental health problems may run in families. For example, if you have a parent with schizophrenia, you are more likely to develop schizophrenia yourself. But no one knows if this is because of our genes or because of other factors, such as the environment we grow up in, or the ways of thinking, coping and behaving that we may learn from our parents.
Although the development of some mental health problems may be influenced by our genes, researchers haven’t found any specific genes that definitely cause mental health problems.
And many people who experience a mental health problem don’t have any parents, children or other relatives with the same condition.
Is brain chemistry a factor?
The human brain is extremely complicated. Some research suggests that mental health problems may be linked to a variation in certain brain chemicals (such as serotonin and dopamine), but no one really understands how or why. Arguments that someone’s brain chemistry is the cause of mental health problems are very weak.
But even though there’s no strong evidence to say that any mental health problems are caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains, you might find some people still use brain chemistry to explain them.
Reasons for this might include:
- Some psychiatric medications work by acting on chemicals in the brain, and there’s lots of evidence to show that medication can be effective in treating some symptoms of mental health problems (although drugs don’t work the same way for everyone).
- Mental health problems can feel very personal and be hard to understand, so the idea that there could be a distinct physical cause for difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviours might make it feel easier to talk openly about your experiences and ask for help.
It’s important to remember that just because we may not know exactly what causes someone to experience a mental health problem, this doesn’t mean that it is any less serious than any other illness, any less deserving of recognition and treatment, or any easier to recover from.