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Mental Health - What are mental health problems?

What are mental health problems?

Feelings of depression, anxiety or confusion are a normal response to the ups and downs of modern life. A person is described as experiencing mental health problems when such feelings are so extreme that they have difficulty carrying on everyday life. It is estimated that up to 1 in 4 people will seek help for a mental health problem at some stage in their lives.

The information in the tabs give a brief description of the most common mental health problems and is accompanied by direct links to NHS Direct for more detailed information and assistance. Please also refer to our “You are not alone section – where you will find a list of contact points at a local level here in Dumfries and Galloway.

Anxiety States

Doctors describe chronic fear, tension and panic attacks as “anxiety states”. The condition is defined as an illness when it becomes an individual`s main experience and stops them getting on with everyday activities.


Dementia is a term for a range of illnesses. The most common type is Alzheimer`s disease, in which brain cells deteriorate through the build up of protein. Vascular dementia is the second most common type of dementia and is caused by problems in the supply of blood to brain cells. About 75% of people who are diagnosed with dementia will have either Alzheimer`s or vascular dementia, or a combination of the two. There are other forms of dementia which are less common. They include dementia with Lewy bodies, fronto-temporal dementias (including Pick`s disease), Huntingdon`s disease, alcohol-related dementias, and HIV/AIDS-related dementia.


It is commonplace to talk about “being depressed”. But depression defined by a doctor as “clinical depression” is a severe version of this. Most people who commit suicide are seriously depressed.

Eating Disorders

Starving to the extent of severe, sometimes life threatening slimness is diagnosed as “anorexia nervosa”. Compulsive eating and vomiting is known as “bulimia nervosa”. Both behaviour patterns are often a way of coping with psychological or emotional problems.

Bipolar (previously known as Manic Depressive Illness)

Some people experience profound changes in their mood, which can switch from depression and lethargy to periods of elation and over-activity. Doctors call this “manic depression”. Some people may move from depression to elation and back again in a week while others may go through this cycle only once a year or less often.

Borderline Personality Disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD) is a serious illness characterised by pervasive instability in moods, interpersonal relationships, self image, and behaviour. This instability often disrupts family and work life, long -term planning, and the individual`s sense of self –identity. Originally thought to be at the “Borderline” of psychosis, people with BPD suffer from a disorder of emotion regulation. While less well known than schizophrenia or bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illness), BPD is more common, affecting 2 percent of adults, mostly young women. There is a high rate of self-injury without suicide intent, as well as a significant rate of suicide attempts and completed suicide in severe cases. Patients often need extensive mental health services, and account for 20 percent of psychiatric hospitalisations. Yet, with help, may improve over time and are eventually able to live productive lives.


Psychiatrists use the term “psychosis” when someone is unable to distinguish clearly between what is real and what is imaginary, or what is external or internal to their own thought processes.


The popular understanding of the term, as describing a Jekyll and Hyde split personality, is not true. Doctors use the term “schizophrenia” to describe a state of mind in which people`s sense of their own identity, thoughts and perceptions go beyond the range of normal experience . People who hear voices, for example, or believe that they are being persecuted by other people may be diagnosed as having schizophrenia.

Post Natal Depression

Having a baby is a life changing experience. Pregnancy and the first year after the birth are periods that many parents find quite stressful. The birth of a baby is an emotional experience and, for many new mothers, feeling tearful and depressed is also common. However, sometimes longer periods of depression, known as postnatal depression (PND), can occur during the first few weeks and months of the baby’s life. PND can have a variety of physical and emotional symptoms, and many women are unaware that they have the condition. It is therefore important for partners, family, friends and healthcare professionals to recognise the signs of PND as early as possible so that the appropriate treatment can be given. Following childbirth, there are three different types of depression – “Baby Blues”, “PND” and “Postnatal psychosis” for more information on all three.


There are different ways in which you may receive support and treatment. Drug treatment may be helpful as may talking treatments (e.g. counselling, psychotherapy, self help groups). Sometimes a combination of both works best. Many people diagnosed as having mental health problems may be treated with drugs such as tranquillisers or antidepressants, which work by affecting the chemical balance of the brain. At the same time doctors and others are becoming more aware of the value of talking treatments and a growing number of doctors` surgeries have access to a counsellor. Which treatments are most appropriate will depend on the nature of the problem. There are many ways to seek help. It is worth noting that seeking help is the first stage of dealing with distress, and those problems, which seem insurmountable, can often be dealt with very easily in the right hands. Other problems may be more difficult and may require longer to unravel. But it is important to remember that there are people who will have experienced similar difficulties to you and there will be people who can help.