What is mental illness?

Mental illnesses, also referred to as mental disorders or psychiatric disorders, are conditions that affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, behaviors, or overall mental well-being.

These conditions can disrupt a person’s ability to function, relate to others, and cope with daily life. Mental illnesses are complex and can vary widely in terms of symptoms, severity, and duration. They are typically diagnosed based on criteria outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is a manual used by mental health professionals to classify and diagnose different mental disorders.

Common categories of mental illnesses include:

  • Mood Disorders: These involve disturbances in mood or emotion. Examples include major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and persistent depressive disorder.
  • Anxiety Disorders: These are characterized by excessive worry, fear, or anxiety that interferes with daily life. Examples include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety disorder.
  • Schizophrenia Spectrum Disorders: These involve disruptions in thinking, perception, emotions, and behavior. Schizophrenia is the most well-known disorder in this category.
  • Personality Disorders: These are characterized by enduring patterns of behavior, cognition, and inner experience that deviate from cultural norms and cause impairment. Examples include borderline personality disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.
  • Eating Disorders: These involve abnormal eating behaviors and distorted body image. Examples include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders: These involve intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or mental acts (compulsions). Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a well-known example.
  • Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorders: These result from exposure to traumatic or stressful events. Examples include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder.
  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders: These typically appear in childhood and involve developmental problems in areas such as communication, social interaction, and behavior. Examples include attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder.
  • Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders: These involve the misuse of substances (e.g., alcohol, drugs) that can lead to addiction and negatively impact mental and physical health.

It’s important to note that mental illnesses are not a sign of weakness, and they can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, background, or socioeconomic status.

They often result from a combination of genetic, biological, psychological, and environmental factors. Effective treatments for mental illnesses can include psychotherapy (talk therapy), medication, lifestyle changes, and support from mental health professionals and loved ones. Early intervention and seeking help are crucial for managing and improving mental health.


What are the signs of Mental Illness?

  • Changes in Mood and Emotions: Persistent sadness, hopelessness, or emptiness (a hallmark of depression). Sudden mood swings or extreme irritability (common in bipolar disorder). Intense and irrational fear or anxiety (characteristic of anxiety disorders).
  • Changes in Behavior: Social withdrawal or isolation from friends and family. Significant changes in sleep patterns (insomnia or excessive sleeping). Changes in eating habits leading to drastic weight loss or gain. Excessive use of drugs or alcohol. Unexplained changes in energy levels, including low motivation or excessive restlessness.
  • Cognitive Changes: Difficulty concentrating or making decisions. Intrusive and distressing thoughts or obsessions (associated with OCD). Disorganized thinking or difficulty in maintaining coherent conversations (common in schizophrenia)
  • Physical Symptoms: Unexplained physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches) with no medical cause. Chronic pain or other physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment.
  • Changes in Perception:Hallucinations (hearing, seeing, or feeling things that aren’t present). Delusions (strongly held false beliefs, often irrational).
  • Impaired Functioning: Difficulty performing daily tasks such as going to work, school, or taking care of personal hygiene. Decline in academic or occupational performance. Strained relationships and difficulty maintaining social interactions.
  • Unusual or Aggressive Behaviour: Out-of-character aggression or violent behaviour. Exhibiting dangerous or risky behaviour without consideration of consequences.
  • Excessive Preoccupation: Obsessive thoughts or behaviours that interfere with daily life (characteristic of OCD). Extreme preoccupation with body image, weight, or appearance (associated with eating disorders).
  • Changes in Sleep Patterns: Insomnia or difficulty staying asleep and/or oversleeping or feeling excessively tired during the day.
  • Lack of Enjoyment: Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were previously enjoyable (a key symptom of depression)

It’s important to recognize that mental health signs can manifest differently in different individuals, and not all signs will be present in every case. Additionally, some mental health conditions can have overlapping symptoms. Early intervention and appropriate treatment can make a significant difference in managing mental health conditions.


What are the statistics on mental illness UK?

  • Prevalence of Mental Illness:

It was estimated that about 1 in 4 adults in the UK experiences a mental health problem in any given year.

Depression and anxiety were among the most common mental health issues.

  • Suicide Rates:

Suicide is a serious concern related to mental health. In the UK, suicide rates have been a significant focus of attention.

The suicide rate in the UK has been fluctuating over the years. In 2019, the suicide rate was 11 deaths per 100,000 population.

  • Children and Young People:

Mental health issues also affect children and young people. In 2017, it was estimated that 1 in 9 children and young people in the UK aged 5 to 16 had a diagnosable mental health condition.

  • Access to Mental Health Services:

Wait times for accessing mental health services have been a concern. Many individuals faced challenges in getting timely access to treatment.

  • Impact on Work and Economy:

An estimated 70 million working days are lost each year in the UK due to mental health problems.

  • Government Initiatives:

The UK government has been working on various initiatives to improve mental health services, reduce stigma, and raise awareness about mental health issues.

  • Stigma and Awareness:

Stigma surrounding mental health has been a barrier to seeking help. Efforts to raise awareness and reduce stigma have gained momentum.

  • COVID-19 Impact:

The COVID-19 pandemic has likely had a significant impact on mental health in the UK, affecting individuals’ well-being due to factors like isolation, uncertainty, and economic challenges.


Who to contact about mental illness UK

NHS (National Health Service) Services:

Your GP (General Practitioner) is usually the first point of contact. They can provide guidance, assessments, and referrals to mental health services.

In England, you can refer to the “NHS Choices” website for information on mental health services, self-help resources, and how to access them.

Mental Health Charities and Helplines:

  • Mind (England and Wales): A mental health charity offering information, support, and advice. They have local branches across England and Wales. Mind Infoline: 0300 123 3393. Text: 86463. Website:
  • SAMH (Scottish Association for Mental Health): Provides mental health information, resources, and support in Scotland. SAMH InfoLine: 0800 917 3466. Website:
  • Inspire (Northern Ireland): Offers mental health support and services in Northern Ireland. Lifeline (24/7 helpline): 0808 808 8000. Website:
  • Rethink Mental Illness: A charity providing support and advocacy for people affected by mental illness across the UK. Advice and information line: 0300 5000 927. Website:

Crisis Support:

If you or someone you know is in crisis, consider reaching out to a helpline such as Samaritans.

Samaritans: 116 123 (24/7 helpline)


Online Resources:

  • NHS Every Mind Matters: Offers resources for mental health and well-being.


  • Big White Wall (now known as Togetherall): An online mental health and well-being service.


Local Mental Health Services:

Your local council or health authority may offer mental health services, support groups, and community resources. Search online for services available in your area.

Therapists and Counsellors:

You can also seek private therapy or counseling services. Look for registered and qualified therapists through professional organizations like the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

Remember that seeking help is an important step toward managing mental health concerns. If you’re unsure where to start, consider reaching out to a helpline or your GP for guidance. If there’s an immediate risk to yourself or someone else, please seek urgent assistance from a medical professional or emergency services.