What are the different types of mental health conditions?
These days we recognise that mental health is just as important as physical health. After all, it affects just about every aspect of our lives, influencing how we think, feel and act. Mental health doesn’t just include our emotional and psychological wellbeing, but our social wellbeing too. However, problems with mental health are now acknowledged as one of the main causes of ill health worldwide (i).
Here in the UK the Mental Health Foundation suggests that, during the past week, an estimated one in six people has experienced a common mental health problem (i). Mental ill health is the single largest cause of disability in this country, responsible for almost 23 per cent of the total burden of ill health (compared to 16 per cent for cancer and cardiovascular disease) (ii).
Anyone can be affected, though some things can increase your risk for mental illness, including:
A family history of mental ill health
A history of stress or abuse, particularly during childhood
Chemical imbalances in the brain and other biological factors
Abuse of alcohol or recreational drugs
Having a serious illness
The most common mental disorder in Britain, according to the Mental Health Foundation, is mixed anxiety and depression, with almost eight per cent of people thought to be affected (iii). However this is just the tip of the iceberg, as according to the latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) (iv) there are almost 300 different mental health conditions.
There are also various different categories of mental health conditions. Read on to discover some of the most common ones.
What are mood disorders?
Mood disorders – also called affective disorders – are defined as conditions in which the principal feature is a prolonged, pervasive emotional disturbance. This typically involves having feelings of extreme sadness, or a combination of extreme sadness and extreme happiness, where you swing from one mood to the other. There are several different types of mood disorders, including the following:
Depression One of the most common mental conditions, depression has a range of symptoms, with a persistent low mood and loss of pleasure in most activities among the most typical. According to the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 4.5 per cent of people in the UK experience depression, with episodes often lasting between three and six months (v). You can read more about it in our guide to depression signs and symptoms.
Bipolar disorder Also called bipolar affective disorder (or, in the past, manic depression), this causes extreme mood swings, with depression at one extreme and feelings of elation at the other. The latest statistics suggest around two per cent of people in the UK are affected by bipolar disorder, with younger people more affected than the elderly (vi). It is also the mental health condition with the highest risk for suicide attempts, with between 14 and 59 per cent of those with bipolar disorder having suicidal thoughts (vii).
Postnatal depression According to the NHS this affects more than one in 10 women in the UK within a year of giving birth, as well as fathers and partners (viii). Find out more about this mental health condition in our postnatal depression guide. Depression during pregnancy – also called antenatal depression – is also common, affecting around one in eight pregnant women (viii).
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder PMDD is a severe and often disabling form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS) that affects between two and five per cent of premenopausal women (ix). The symptoms vary from one women to another – for more information, read our article What is Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder?
What is anxiety disorder?
If you have an anxiety disorder you will usually experience symptoms such as worry, fear, panic and nervousness, as well as physical symptoms associated with panic including sweating, rapid breathing and a rapid heartbeat. And while it’s normal to have these feelings in certain situations, people with an anxiety disorder respond to situations in a highly inappropriate way, and are unable to control the way they feel. They may also experience anxiety to such an extent that it interferes with their day-to-day living.
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) Most of us worry about things from time to time, but if you feel anxious most or all of the time and worry about lots of different things rather than one thing in particular, you may have GAD. According to NICE, 4.4 per cent of adults in England have GAD – though later figures suggest more than 10 per cent may be affected (x). GAD is most common in people aged between 35 and 55, and up to 2.5 times more common in women than in men. There’s more about GAD and anxiety in general in our guide to Anxiety Symptoms.
Panic disorder If you have frequent panic attacks without any obvious cause or trigger, you may have panic disorder. Here in the UK around one in 50 people is thought to have panic disorder, but panic attacks are much more common, with at least one in 10 people having one occasionally (xi). Read more about panic attacks and how to manage them in our guide How to Deal With Panic Attacks.
Social anxiety disorder The NHS says this isn’t just shyness but a long-term and overwhelming fear of social situations (xii). It’s considered one of the most common of all the anxiety disorders, with statistics suggesting up to 12 per cent of people experience social anxiety during their lifetime (xiii). It often starts in teenagers, then for some it gets better as they get older – though others may continue to be socially anxious unless they get treatment (types of treatment include cognitive behavioural therapy – or CBT – and antidepressant medicines).
Phobias If you have a phobia, it means you experience extreme fear or anxiety in response to a specific situation or object. Social anxiety, for instance, is classed as a type of phobia, though almost anything can be a phobia trigger (spiders and heights are common phobias but there are numerous others). Phobias can also trigger panic attacks. According to the NHS, an estimated 10 million people in the UK have phobias (xiv).
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) Estimates suggest around 12 in every 1,000 people in the UK are affected by OCD (xv), a condition that causes obsessive thoughts and compulsive, repetitive activities. For instance, if you check your windows and doors are locked several times before you can leave your home, you may have OCD. While this may not seem like such a big deal, OCD can make you feel very anxious and distressed, and in severe cases it can affect your everyday life. Read more about it in our guide to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.
What are personality disorders?
Personality disorders are less common than mood and anxiety disorders but they are typically more serious. People with personality disorders have extreme and inflexible personality traits as well as dysfunctional thoughts, feelings and behaviours. This can cause distress for the person affected, making it difficult for them to function normally, as well as for those around them.
Borderline personality disorder According to the NHS this is the most commonly recognised personality disorder (xvi) and affects how you think, perceive, feel or relate to other people. It causes four main types of symptoms, including emotional instability, disturbed patterns of thinking or perception, impulsive behaviour and intense, unstable relationships.
Narcissistic personality disorder If you have narcissistic personality disorder you may have traits such as arrogance, an overly high opinion of yourself and a need to be loved and admired while having little empathy or concern for others. NPD is different from general narcissism – which can affect most of us from time to time – and can cause a range of symptoms and behaviours such as depression, anxiety, mood swings, drug or alcohol abuse and thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Paranoid personality disorder People who are paranoid all or most of the time, including being persistently suspicious of others, are often diagnosed as having paranoid personality disorder. Paranoia traits include interpreting innocent remarks as personal attacks and believing other people can’t be trusted. To make matters worse, if you have paranoid personality disorder you may not seek professional help because you think doctors can’t be trusted either.
What qualifies as an eating disorder?
Someone with an eating disorder tends to have extreme emotions, behaviours and attitudes around eating, food and their weight. According to the Mental Health Foundation, an eating disorder is a mental health problem that involves disordered eating behaviour, which can include eating too little, too much, or being fixated with your weight or shape (xvii). The two best-known eating disorders are anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, though there are other types too, including binge eating disorder and other specified feeding or eating disorder (OSFED – also called atypical eating disorder).
Anorexia nervosa This may be the eating disorder you’re most likely to have heard of, but it’s also the least common. Anorexia typically involves restricting how much food you eat, and leads to very low body weight. According to NICE, between two and four per cent of women experience anorexia, with figures for men much lower at around one in 100,000 (xviii). However, while it’s the least common eating disorder, more people die from anorexia than any other mental health condition.
Bulimia nervosa This is when you regularly eat an abnormally large amount of food during a short period of time (bingeing) followed by self-induced vomiting, taking lots of laxatives or exercising excessively. According to NICE, fewer than one to two per cent of people in Europe are affected by bulimia, which typically starts during teenage years and young adulthood. People with bulimia may have mood and anxiety symptoms, low self-esteem and body image problems, leading to relationship problems and social isolation.
You can find out more about eating disorders in our guide Understanding Types of Eating Disorders and How to Treat Them.
Impulse control and addiction disorders
Impulse control and addiction disorders can make you unable to control impulses or urges that may be harmful to yourself or other people. Examples of impulse control disorders are kleptomania, pyromania and compulsive gambling, while addiction disorders include alcohol and drug addiction.
Kleptomania and pyromania If you have kleptomania, you have an overwhelming urge to steal things you don’t need. Meanwhile, pyromania makes you fascinated by fire and you may have an urge to set things alight, putting yourself and others at risk.
Compulsive gambling In DSM-5, gambling disorder is defined as persistent and recurrent problematic gambling behaviour leading to clinically significant impairment or distress. If you are often preoccupied with thoughts of gambling, if you’ve made several unsuccessful attempts at cutting back or stopping gambling, or you need to gamble with larger and larger sums of money to get a buzz out of it, you may be a compulsive gambler. According to the latest figures from the Gambling Commission, 0.4 per cent of people in the UK are problem gamblers (xvix).
Alcohol and drug addiction Misusing substances such as alcohol, nicotine, cannabis, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy and even some prescribed medicines can have an effect on your mood, your behaviour and the way you see things. According to Mind, some people who misuse alcohol and drugs can also experience long-term mental health problems such as depression and schizophrenia (xx). Some people who already have mental health problems may also use alcohol and/or drugs to help themselves cope. The latest NHS data reveal there were 7,376 annual hospital admissions for drug-related mental and behavioural disorders in 2018/19 (xxi). Meanwhile, NICE reports four per cent of people aged 16 - 65 in England – that’s six per cent of men and two per cent of women – are affected by alcohol dependence (xxii).
Psychotic disorders: what exactly is schixophrenia?
People with psychotic disorders experience distorted awareness and thinking, and may be affected by hallucinations – which is when you see or hear things that aren’t real – and delusions (beliefs you think are true that are actually false). In other words, they lose touch with reality and are unable to tell which of their thoughts and experiences are real and which are not. According to NICE, around 0.5 per cent of adults in England have a psychotic disorder (xxiii).
Schizophrenia This is arguably the best-known type of psychotic disorder, affecting around one in 100 people (xxiv). However, despite what many people think, it has nothing to do with having a split personality, with symptoms including hallucinations, delusions, disordered thoughts and problems with feelings, behaviour and motivation. Nobody really knows what causes schizophrenia, but it may have something to do with an imbalance of brain chemicals. If you have a close family member who has schizophrenia, you have a 10 times higher-than-normal risk of developing it too (xxiv).
How can I improve my mental health?
If you suspect you or someone close to you may have a mental health condition, it’s not always obvious where you should go for help. However, the first person you may want to speak to is your GP. This is widely considered the best way to start getting help with your condition, as your GP can refer you for help and support that’s offered by the NHS. This often includes talking therapies, medication and other treatments, depending on the condition that’s affecting you.
However, in some areas of the UK there are long waiting lists to access talking therapies. You may, in that instance, want to consider paying for private counselling. You can search for a qualified and registered private therapist via one of the following websites:
Find out more about getting help for a mental health condition, including details of charities and other organisations that offer support and advice, by reading our guide How to Get Mental Health Help.
What vitamins are good for mental health?
If you’re experiencing any problem with your mental wellbeing, boosting your general health will always be helpful. For example, taking a good-quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can help make sure your body is getting all the nutrients it needs, since there may well be times when you don’t eat as healthily as you should. Experts have also found taking a multivitamin may help people cope better with stress (xxv).
Other nutritional supplements may also be useful, including the following:
High-strength fish oils As well as supporting your general physical health, the omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, herring and fresh tuna may be good for your cognitive and mental health too. Indeed, scientists have found omega-3s help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which may help your body cope with the effects of stress more effectively (xxvi). You can even benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, since supplements containing omega-3s sourced from marine algae are more widely available these days.
Vitamin B complex As well as being essential for your overall health, B vitamins may be useful for combatting stress too. One review of clinical trials, for instance, has found B vitamins have benefits for both healthy people and those who have a high risk for problems with stress (xxvii). You can take individual B vitamin supplements, but a good-quality B complex formulation should provide all the Bs you need (and is much more convenient).
Magnesium Low levels of magnesium, meanwhile, have frequently been linked with an inability to deal with stress. One study concludes people experiencing both mental and physical stress may benefit from taking a daily magnesium supplement, as it helps reduce symptoms such as restlessness, irritability, lack of concentration, sleep problems and depression. (xxviii). Magnesium is found in a range of foods including green vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans and whole grains. However you can also top up your magnesium levels with a good-quality supplement – choose a form of magnesium that’s better absorbed by the body, such as magnesium citrate.
5-HTP The amino acid 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is widely recommended by nutritional therapists as a treatment for depression and low mood. That’s because this compound is converted in the brain to serotonin – a neurotransmitter (or brain chemical) often referred to as the ‘happy’ hormone. In fact, studies even suggest it may be as effective as conventional antidepressants (xxix). Researchers have also found 5-HTP may help with anxiety disorders (xxx).
St John’s wort Based on traditional use only, St John’s wort is a popular herbal remedy used for the relief of slightly low mood and mild anxiety. Indeed one study summarising the clinical efficacy and safety of St John’s wort extract concludes it may be an option for patients who can’t tolerate conventional antidepressant drugs (xxxi). A review also suggests St John’s wort extracts are significantly more effective than placebo with at least similar efficacy and better tolerability compared to standard antidepressant drugs (xxxii).
Theanine This non-protein amino acid is found almost exclusively in green, black, oolong and pekoe tea – though you can also find it in nutritional supplements. It’s thought to make you feel more calm by helping your brain produce alpha waves. And while some conventional medicines that help you relax can make you feel sleepy too, studies suggest theanine supplements can calm you down but still keep you feeling awake and alert (xxxiii). Researchers have discovered theanine may help you feel calm when faced with a stressful situation by slowing down your heart rate (xxxiv).
Lemon balm Herbal therapists often recommend tea made with the herb lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to help with relaxation. There is, in fact, some evidence it could help reduce anxiety levels (xxxv), though existing studies aren’t really ideal as they only include a small number of volunteers. Nevertheless, a cup of lemon balm tea is a pleasant way to relax – though you can, of course, take lemon balm in supplement form too.
Ashwagandha A traditional Ayurvedic herb, ashwagandha is often used to help with stress. Studies suggest ashwagandha may help reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol (xxxvi), with researchers elsewhere finding it’s a safe and effective supplement to take alongside conventional antidepressants in people with generalised anxiety disorder symptoms (xxxvii).
Mental health is important for our overall wellbeing, but there are so many conditions that can affect it. With one in six of us experiencing a problem with our mental health at any given time, the need to be aware of the different types of problems, as well as ways to support our mental health naturally, is as important as ever. For more information on a wide range of health conditions, both physical and mental, visit our pharmacy health library
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Disclaimer: The information presented by Nature's Best is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications.
Christine Morgan has been a freelance health and wellbeing journalist for almost 20 years, having written for numerous publications including the Daily Mirror, S Magazine, Top Sante, Healthy, Woman & Home, Zest, Allergy, Healthy Times and Pregnancy & Birth; she has also edited several titles such as Women’ Health, Shine’s Real Health & Beauty and All About Health.