Anxiety is an extremely common mental health condition, affecting more than 8 million people in the UK today. Everyone experiences anxiety to some degree – it is in our nature as human beings to recognise threat in any given situation. Imagine you found yourself face to face with a lion, for example. Your body would recognise the danger you are in – it would be a case of life or death. The threat of the carnivorous lion would cause your body to go into fight or flight mode; you either run for your life or freeze on the spot, all while experiencing the physical symptoms that go alongside anxiety, including racing thoughts, heart palpitations, sweating and an overriding sense of fear.
These are all very normal and rational reactions for someone facing a threat to life, but what happens when an individual develops an anxiety disorder, however, is the inability to recognise real threats from ones that pose no danger at all. Someone suffering anxiety might experience all the same symptoms; racing thoughts, heart palpitations, sweating, panic attacks, in what might seem like very ordinary situations.
There are lots of types of anxiety, including social anxiety – when an individual finds socialising and social environments particularly difficult, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – when a particularly distressing event causes an individual to remain ‘stuck’ in a moment of time, unable to process the event and move forward, and, the most common type of anxiety, generalised anxiety disorder, among many others. Anxiety can hinder one’s sleep pattern and contribute to weight loss or gain. As well as being a mental disorder, it is recognised as having very physical side effects.
Depression is the predominant mental health problem in the world and, like anxiety, has both physical and mental symptoms. People suffering with depression may have feelings of hopelessness, despair, guilt, worthlessness and can commonly coincide with anxiety. Along with the emotional aspects of depression, there are many physical aspects to the condition, including feeling exhausted, suffering sleep problems, a loss of appetite, weight loss and loss of sex drive.
As with any mental health condition, there are varying degrees of depression, and for many people it does not stop them from leading a normal life. However, it does make everyday tasks extremely difficult to complete and with feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness, often individuals suffering with depression are unable to find the motivation to lead their lives. In the most extreme cases, depression can cause suicidal thoughts and in very tragic cases, death.
As with anxiety, there are different types of depression, including antenatal and postnatal (which occur during or after pregnancy) and seasonal affective disorder, which tends to occur more during the winter months. However, in some cases there may be no immediate or recognisable cause for depression and, therefore, may require extra support in finding ways to cope.
While stress is not a psychiatric diagnosis, we recognise it plays a huge part in our mental wellbeing and, in extreme cases, can contribute to the development of other mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression.
Everyone experiences stress, and as humans we are built to adapt and respond to it as we navigate our way through life. Stress can give us the motivation to find solutions to problems, complete a project or task at work, resolve tension in a relationship and help us to learn new ways of coping in future situations. However, stress can become a problem for some people as severe and prolonged episodes can lead to mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety, as well as burnout.
On the other hand, many people who suffer with existing mental health problems find the day-to-day management of such conditions leads them to experiencing stress, too. This vicious cycle makes stress difficult to manage for some people. Physically, stress can cause headaches, tiredness, weight loss or gain, and stomach problems, posing long-term health problems if left untreated.
Previously known as manic depression, bipolar disorder largely affects an individual’s mood. This mental health condition is identifiable by episodes of extreme highs and lows, which can swing erratically from one to the other. Someone suffering from bipolar disorder may feel very low and lethargic one moment, similar to the symptoms of depression, and then switch to feeling very high, happy and overactive. Episodes of extreme highs and lows can last for many weeks, which is why it is important to note the difference between having mood swings – which we all do – to having bipolar disorder. As with all mental health conditions, the effects and severity of bipolar disorder differ from person to person. Many people are stable for most of their life and have just one or two episodes, but for some it can be a more frequent pattern and hindrance to their day-to-day lives.
Eating disorders may seem, on the surface, to be a physical illness, but the root of the problem goes much deeper. For many sufferers of eating disorders, mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, stress and bi-polar disorder occur alongside, making life even more difficult to navigate.
The most common types of eating disorder are bulimia nervosa and anorexia nervosa. In bulimia nervosa, we typically see an individual who experiences episodes of eating a significantly large amount of food (binging) and subsequently feeling a huge degree of shame, causing them to make themselves sick (purging). The side effects of this condition include dehydration due to the loss of vital nutrients when purging, irregular or no periods, tooth problems due to the acid from your stomach.
The feelings of shame and guilt surrounding bulimia nervosa are large contributors to the ongoing cycle of this condition, and therefore require specialist support in overcoming and finding healthier ways to cope.
A diagnosis of anorexia nervosa is essentially down to an individual’s weight being too low as a result of not eating enough food. However, it is more than a physical condition, as it is often caused by extremely low self-esteem, a skewed self-image and extreme feelings of distress. Sufferers of anorexia nervosa often report feelings of not being good enough, a constant obsession with food and worthlessness. Closely linked to anxiety and depression, eating disorders are complex and debilitating conditions that require professional attention and treatment to overcome.
We have seen first-hand how high-quality care leads to the long-term recovery of many mental and behavioural disorders, and it is our aim to continue this work.