1 in 4 adults and 1 in 10 children experience a mental health problem during their lifetime, and many more of us know and care for people who do.
We can all feel anxious, stressed or low at times, but it can be a problem if these feelings go on for a long time or impact our ability to live our lives.
It can take time for someone's mental health to improve, and some may need professional help, but there are ways to help and support someone get back to positive mental health.
If you know someone struggling with their mental health, there are lots of things you can do. In this article, we share tips and expert advice on how to help someone with a mental health problem and how you can support yourself in the process.
Types of mental health problems
The main types of mental health problems are:
- Depressive disorders. These include disorders that affect how you feel emotionally, such as the level of sadness and happiness, and they can disrupt your ability to function. Examples include clinical depression and premenstrual dysphoric disorder.
- Anxiety disorders. Anxiety is an emotion characterized by the anticipation of future danger or misfortune, along with excessive worrying. It can include behaviour aimed at avoiding situations that cause anxiety. This class includes generalised anxiety disorder, panic disorder and phobias.
- Neurodevelopmental disorders. This class covers a wide range of problems that usually begin in infancy or childhood. Conditions include autism spectrum disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disorders.
- Schizophrenia spectrum and other psychotic disorders. Psychotic disorders cause detachment from reality, such as delusions, hallucinations, and disorganised thinking and speech. Examples include Schizophrenia and Psychotic Depression.
- Bipolar and related disorders. This class includes disorders with alternating episodes of mania, periods of excessive activity, energy and excitement, and depression.
- Obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. These disorders involve preoccupations or obsessions and repetitive thoughts and actions. Examples include obsessive-compulsive disorder, hoarding disorder and hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania).
- Trauma- and stressor-related disorders. These are adjustment disorders in which a person has trouble coping during or after a stressful life event. Examples include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder.
- Dissociative disorders. These are disorders in which your sense of self is disrupted, such as dissociative identity disorder and dissociative amnesia.
- Somatic symptoms and related disorders. A person with one of these disorders may have physical symptoms that cause major emotional distress and problems functioning. The disorders include somatic symptom disorder, illness anxiety disorder and factitious disorder.
- Feeding and eating disorders. These disorders include disturbances related to eating that impact nutrition and health, such as anorexia nervosa and binge-eating disorder.
- Sleep-wake disorders. These are disorders of sleep severe enough to require clinical attention, such as insomnia, sleep apnoea and restless legs syndrome.
- Disruptive, impulse-control and conduct disorders. These disorders include problems with emotional and behavioural self-control, such as kleptomania or intermittent explosive disorder.
- Substance-related and addictive disorders. These include problems associated with the excessive use of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco and drugs.
- Neurocognitive disorders. Neurocognitive disorders affect your ability to think and reason. These acquired (rather than developmental) cognitive problems include delirium, as well as neurocognitive disorders due to conditions or diseases such as traumatic brain injury or Alzheimer's disease.
- Personality disorders. A personality disorder involves a lasting pattern of emotional instability and unhealthy behaviour that causes problems in your life and relationships. Examples include borderline, antisocial and narcissistic personality disorders.
- Other mental disorders. This class includes mental disorders that are due to other medical conditions or that don't meet the full criteria for one of the above disorders.
Symptoms of mental health problems
Symptoms of mental illness can vary, depending on the disorder, circumstances and other factors. Mental illness symptoms can affect emotions, thoughts, the body and, behaviours.
Common symptoms include:
- Feeling sad or low
- Confused thinking or reduced ability to concentrate
- Excessive fears or worries, or extreme feelings of guilt
- Extreme mood changes which alternate between highs and lows
- Withdrawal from friends and activities
- Significant tiredness, low energy or problems sleeping
- Detachment from reality (delusions), paranoia or hallucinations
- Inability to cope with daily problems or stress
- Trouble understanding and relating to situations and people
- Problems with alcohol or drug use
- Major changes in eating habits
- Sex drive changes
- Excessive anger, hostility or violence
- Suicidal thinking
- Not getting any enjoyment out of life
Sometimes symptoms of a mental health condition appear as physical problems, such as stomach pain, back pain, headaches, weight changes, or other unexplained aches and pains.
How to get a mental health diagnosis
To diagnose a mental health problem, doctors will look at:
- your experiences (groupings of certain feelings, behaviours and physical symptoms may suggest different diagnoses)
- how long you've been experiencing these things
- the impact it's having on your daily life
To do this, your doctor may ask you questions about your mood, thoughts and behaviours - usually by using questionnaires. They will base your diagnosis on what you tell them and sometimes some non-verbal cues. If your symptoms change you might find you are given different diagnoses over time.
Having a diagnosis does not necessarily mean that you are unwell right now. You could have a diagnosis of a mental health problem but, at the moment, be able to manage it and function well at work and home. Equally, you may not be diagnosed but struggling. Everyone's experience is different and can change at different times.
Who can diagnose me?
For common problems such as depression and anxiety, your GP may be able to give you a diagnosis after one or two appointments.
For less common problems you'll need to be referred to a mental health specialist (such as a psychiatrist), and they may want to see you over a longer period before making a diagnosis.
The Pharmacy2U Online Doctor service provides treatment and advice for situational anxiety. To have a confidential and convenient situational anxiety consultation with our UK registered GP click below.
Supporting someone with a mental health problem
If your loved one shows signs of mental illness, try to have an open and honest discussion with them about your concerns. Try not to force someone to get professional help, instead, you can offer encouragement and support. You can also help your loved one find a qualified mental health professional and make an appointment. You may even be able to go along to the appointment with them.
Below, find 10 ways you can help support someone with a mental health problem:
1. Let them know you care
Letting someone know you're worried is a good way to open up a conversation. This shows you care about the person, have time for them and, that they don’t have to avoid certain situations with you.
2. Reassure them
The first time someone mentions their worries is a big step. It's good to recognise this and reassure them. Let them know you're there to listen when they need to talk.
3. Be patient
Recovering from a mental health condition takes time to understand a problem, its causes and how to treat it – everyone is different.. There may be reasons why someone finds it difficult to ask for help. Just being there can be helpful for someone who may want to open up later.
4. Don’t force it
Forcing someone to talk to you or get help can have the opposite effect to the one you intended. This may lead to them feeling uncomfortable, with less power and less able to speak for themselves.
Let them share as much or as little as they want. Set some time aside with no distractions. Don’t try to diagnose or second guess their feelings. We’re all tempted to finish each other’s sentences from time to time but let the person you care about get the right words for themselves.
5. Offer practical support
You might want to offer to go to the doctors with them or help them talk to a friend or family member. Little acts of kindness, like offering to do the shopping or cooking dinner for them, can also help. Find out what works for them. Try not to take control and allow them to make decisions.
6. Offer your time
Listening is an important skill. Once someone starts to share how they’re feeling, it’s important to listen. This could mean not offering advice, not trying to identify what they’re going through with your own experiences and not trying to solve their problems. The Samaritans have compiled some listening tips to help you give the best support you can.
7. Support yourself
It can be upsetting to hear someone you care about in distress. Be kind to yourself and take some time to engage in self-care or do something you enjoy.
The NHS share some useful mental wellbeing tips, read more here.
8. Know your limits
You will have limits to the support that you can provide. And it's important to take care of yourself too. Give yourself time to rest and process what they have told you or what’s happened. Try to help them create a support network of other friends, relatives and mental health professionals who can help them too.
If the person you are worried about is in immediate danger, for example, if they have hurt themselves, call an ambulance on 999.
9. Don’t try and diagnose
Try not to make assumptions about what is wrong or jump in too quickly with your diagnosis or solutions. You may feel you are being helpful and, while you are happy to talk and offer support, you aren’t a trained counsellor, so it’s better to remain impartial.
10. Ask open-ended questions
People who are struggling with their mental health may be finding it hard to know what to say. Try saying "How are you feeling?" rather than "I can see you are feeling very low". Try to keep your language neutral as this will give the person time to answer. Refrain from asking them too many questions as they may find this overwhelming.
What to do in a mental health crisis
If you need help for a mental health crisis or emergency, you should get immediate expert advice and assessment.
It's important to know that support is available:
NHS urgent mental health helplines
NHS urgent mental health helplines are for people of all ages.
You can call for:
- 24-hour advice and support – for you, your child, your parent or someone you care for
- help to speak to a mental health professional
- an assessment to help decide on the best course of care
Free listening services
These services offer confidential support from trained volunteers. You can talk about anything troubling you, no matter how difficult:
- Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: email@example.com for a reply within 24 hours
- Text "SHOUT" to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text "YM" if you're under 19
Coping during a crisis
The mental health charity Mind has information on ways to help yourself cope during a crisis. This includes calming exercises and a tool to get you through the next few hours.
Mental health treatments
Any treatment your doctor offers you will ideally follow what the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends for your condition. NICE is the organisation that produces official clinical guidelines on best practices in healthcare.
Talking treatments provide a regular time and space for you to talk about thoughts and experiences and explore difficult feelings with a trained professional. This could help to:
- deal with a specific problem
- cope with upsetting memories or experiences
- improve your interpersonal relationships
- develop more helpful ways of living day-to-day.
There are lots of different kinds of therapy available in the UK, such as CBT, and it's important to find a style and a therapist that you feel comfortable with.
Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) is an NHS service for people in England aged 18 or over. You can talk to your GP about IAPT services or get in touch with them directly without talking to your GP. Psychological therapies can treat conditions like:
- generalised anxiety
- social anxiety
- panic and agoraphobia
- other phobias
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- body dysmorphic disorder
The most common type of treatment available is psychiatric medication. These drugs don't cure mental health problems, but they can ease many symptoms. Which type of drug you are offered will depend on your diagnosis. Not everyone with a mental health condition has to take medication. The most common types of medication include:
- Antidepressants. Antidepressants are used to treat depression, anxiety and sometimes other conditions. They can help improve symptoms such as sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, difficulty concentrating and lack of interest in activities.
- Anti-anxiety medications. These drugs are used to treat anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder. They may also help reduce agitation and insomnia. Long-term anti-anxiety drugs typically are antidepressants that also work for anxiety. Fast-acting anti-anxiety drugs help with short-term relief, but they also have the potential to cause dependency, so ideally they'd be used short term.
- Mood-stabilising medications. Mood stabilisers are most commonly used to treat bipolar disorders, which involves alternating episodes of mania and depression. Sometimes mood stabilizers are used with antidepressants to treat depression.
- Antipsychotic medications. Antipsychotic drugs are typically used to treat psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia. Antipsychotic medications may also be used to treat bipolar disorders or used with antidepressants to treat depression.
Pharmacy2U can help take away some of the anxiety and stress around collecting prescriptions and waiting in unnecessary queues, as we can deliver your medication to your door for free.
Complementary and alternative therapies
Many people find complementary and alternative therapies helpful to manage common symptoms of mental health problems. These can include things like yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, hypnotherapy, herbal remedies and acupuncture.
The clinical evidence for these options is not as robust as it is for other treatments, but you may find they work for you.
03444 775 774 (helpline)
07537 416 905 (text)
Advice and support for people living with anxiety.
0808 801 0677 (adult helpline)
0808 801 0711 (youthline)
0808 801 0811 (studentline)
Offers information and advice on eating disorders and runs a supportive online community. Also provides a directory of support services at HelpFinder.
0808 808 7777
029 2081 1370 (Carers Wales)
Advice and support for anyone who provides care.
Information and support for people living with a disability.
0300 123 6600
Confidential advice and information about drugs, their effects and the law.
Information and support for people affected by mental health problems in Wales.
Information and support for people who hear voices or have other unshared perceptions, including local support groups.
Infoline: 0300 123 3393
Post: Mind Infoline, PO Box 75225, London, E15 9FS
The Infoline provides an information and signposting service. They are open 9 am to 6 pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays).
Provides a helpline, step-by-step programmes, and support for people with anxiety disorders.
0800 068 41 41
07860 039967 (text)
Confidential support for under-35s at risk of suicide and others who are concerned about them. Open daily from 9 am – midnight.
116 123 (freephone)
Chris, Freepost RSRB-KKBY-CYJK
PO Box 90 90
Stirling FK8 2SA
Samaritans are open 24/7 for anyone who needs to talk. You can visit some Samaritans branches in person. Samaritans also have a Welsh Language Line on 0808 164 0123 (7 pm – 11 pm every day).
Mental health charity that supports students.
The national campaign to end stigma and discrimination against people with mental health problems in England and Wales. The campaign for England ended in 2021, but its resources are still available online.
0808 802 5544 (Parents Helpline)
85258 (Crisis Messenger for young people – text the letters YM)
Committed to improving the mental health of babies, children and young people, including support for parents and carers.