• Dr Emily Barney

Common Mental Health Disorders: What they are, how to spot if you have one and when to be concerned

Updated: Jun 24, 2020

One in four of us has a common mental health disorder or illness right now. Maybe you might think about this the next time you are on the train on your way to work, or having a coffee in the local cafe, or doing the school run, in a work meeting, at a birthday party, out with your friends, and so on. Everyday we are interacting with people who are living with a common mental health illness at the moment. Sometimes you might be able spot when people are struggling, sometimes you will have no idea. Maybe it is you who is struggling, but doesn’t everyone? Isn’t that just life, part of being an adult with responsibilities? Part of being a teenager? Part of old age? You may even think your problems aren’t that bad and tell yourself there are a lot more people who have it worse than you, and besides, people with a mental illness have "lost their minds" and "are crazy," right?


Our mind will give us lots of reasons why NOT to consider that we might have a common mental illness right now. This very short blog is intended to give some clarity about the topic to help anyone who is unsure about when to get help or more advice.


Illnesses such as Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobia, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder all fall into the category of “Common Mental Health Disorders or Illnesses.” This is because so many of us experience these illnesses and for the most part, we can generally manage to function enough in our daily lives with these illnesses, but it takes a lot of energy, and life can become a struggle and debilitating. These illnesses usually come in “episodes” or a “period of being unwell” that can creep up on us gradually with the stress of life without us realising and whilst symptoms can become chronic if ignored, for a lot of us, a lot of the time, we will have enough resources available to us in our current life context to bring ourselves back on track in life in a reasonably short time for the symptoms to subside. Unfortunately, sometimes we won’t, and this is nothing to do with weakness, it is just the way it is. One time we may have been able to cope with things but now we find the simplest of tasks a struggle and we become hard on ourselves, forgetting that we are a different person than we were, with different motivations, intentions, responsibilities and resources, and when access to our resources becomes depleted for whatever reason, we may need to ask for help to give us that kick start to get back on track.


There are so many good websites available on the internet for more information about symptoms. But as a start, the following is particularly relevant for depression. It might be worth asking yourself the following two questions right now:

1. During the last month, have I often been bothered by feeling down, depressed or hopeless?

2. During the last month, have I often been bothered by having little interest or pleasure in doing things?

The particularly important words here are the words ‘often’ and ‘bothered.’ Over the last month we all may have had days where we have felt down or depressed or had little interest in doing things, but ask yourself has this been often? And have you been bothered by this? For example, maybe you have become worried that you can't get motivated about anything, or you are upset that you don't enjoy interacting with your family.

Another important word is “hopeless” if you have had prolonged feelings of hopelessness this last month this is something to pay attention to and may indicate a depressive episode, for which there is so much help, advice and treatment available to you right now.


In short. You don't. Your brain is responding exactly as it should be in response to the perception of threat in the environment. You are not going crazy and your brain is not damaged. More importantly to note, it has the ability to adapt and find solutions and a way forward, no matter how bleak things are. You may however, want to consider professional support if you notice that your concentration, energy and mood is so poor that you are having problems functioning in your work, social or family roles. Or that you are "not yourself,' maybe you are losing your temper at small things, feeling close to tears all the time, wanting to hide away, even from loved ones, unable to sleep or sleeping too much.

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