Research shows that around one in four people are suffering from mental illness, which means that at any point in time, a quarter of the population have some kind of mental health problem. This can range from mild depression and anxiety right through to serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and other forms of dementia.
No one is immune to developing a mental health problem as mental illness can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time and at any age. So how can you recognise the early warning signs? All of us will inevitably feel a bit out of sorts or low at times and it's important to stress that this is a perfectly normal part of life and the feeling usually wears off after a short period of time. It's when we can't shake this feeling off on our own that we should pay attention and on the alert for other symptoms of depression or anxiety.
The most common types of mental health problems are indeed anxiety related disorders and depression and by recognising the symptoms we can help prevent ourselves or others close to us from experiencing unnecessary suffering and despair.
Common symptoms of anxiety and depression
* Low moods or sadness
* Unable to sleep or sleeping too much
* Changes in appetite
* Loss of libido
* Weight loss or weight gain
* Emotional outbursts
* Experiencing a panic attack
* Unable to relax
* Excessive worrying
* Feeling worthless and guilty
* Unable to make decisions
* Feeling anxious and nervous
* Obsessive compulsive behaviour
* Thoughts of suicide
We may experience one or more of these symptoms from time to time and yet not be suffering from a mental illness but if the symptoms persist and are severe enough to interfere with what you normally do on a day to day basis then you should seek advice from your doctor.
For example if you find it hard to go to work, or get up in the morning, or if you avoid social contact with friends or stop indulging in hobbies or pastimes that you used to enjoy or if you are constantly worrying and feeling anxious then this should all be taken seriously.
Anxiety can be defined as a persistent nagging and unrealistic worry or fear about any aspect of your life, for example it could be connected to your health, your relationships or your work. You might have some difficulty focussing or concentrating on a task, your sleep may be disturbed and you could feel edgy and irritable or shaky and nervous.
Again it's important to stress that we all become anxious when faced with threatening or difficult situations such as a driving test or a job interview and this is a good thing as it helps us to prepare for the event. It's when this anxiety persists when there is no obvious reason for it that we should pay attention and seek help before it gets any worse. If we are extremely anxious or worried then we might also experience panic attacks.
What are panic attacks?
Panic attacks are terrifying; they can come on at any time without warning. Physical symptoms include difficulty breathing, pounding heart, unable to swallow, pains in the chest, dizziness and shaking. People often describe the sensation of a panic attack as if they are having a heart attack and feel as if they are going to die. Once someone has experienced a full blown panic attack they may be so scared of having another one that even the fear of the panic attack itself is enough to bring one on.
People who are suffering from persistent anxiety are often suffering from depression too.
Depression can be said to exist when you have been feeling low for more than a couple of weeks or so and the symptoms are severe enough to hinder you from carrying out your normal daily routines the way you used to and you no longer enjoy the same activities that you used to find pleasurable. It can make you feel exhausted, worthless and unable to cope with even the most minor of tasks.
When to seek help
Quite simply, it is important to seek help as early as possible in order to get the right support. Many people are tempted to go it alone and struggle on day after day which not only reduces quality of life it also magnifies existing feelings of isolation, hopelessness and despair.
If you are diagnosed with depression or an anxiety related disorder then it is quite likely that you will be offered medication in the first instance, and possibly some form of therapy.
The good thing is that both depression and anxiety are treatable and with the right support and understanding from family and friends, most people will get back to their old selves again and will go on to make a complete recovery.