Mental Illness

Mental Illness

Mental illness is a general term that covers the whole spectrum of mental health disorders.  Having a mental health disorder can seem like a daunting prospect, but on this page we take an overview of mental illness and attempt to take the confusion and fear out of being diagnosed with a mental health problem.

Common mental illnesses include conditions such as anxiety and stress disorders, depression, eating disorders, addiction and personality disorders.  Other, less common conditions include schizophrenia and dissociative disorders.  Each of these disorders is covered in depth on their own section of this website.

Signs and symptoms 

Every mental health condition will present different signs and symptoms; some symptoms could be a sign of more than one illness, which is why it is important to get personal advice.  Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder can be confusing as some people experience a general feeling of being physically unwell and do not realise that they are actually suffering for mental ill health.

If you have any concerns over your mental wellbeing you should always discuss these with a professional healthcare provider.  This will usually involve an initial trip to see your doctor.  He will be able to assess your condition or arrange a consultation with a specialist such as a psychiatrist, psychologist or other mental health professional.  It will usually be your GP or a psychology professional that will form a diagnosis.


Each individual who has a mental health disorder will have a different cause for their condition.  Sometimes life experiences can cause or exacerbate mental illness, this is particularly common with stress related conditions, PTSD and dissociative disorders. While life events usually factor in mental ill-health, genetic susceptibility is being studied more and more, with family links being thought to play a part in many mental health conditions, the connection is particularly well studied in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Please read more about specific conditions on this site to find out more.

It can be useful to understand why you are experiencing mental ill health, this is where education about your condition can play an empowering part in your recovery.  You can discuss any concerns which you may have over the cause of your condition with your health care provider, remember that they are there to help you.


As mentioned above the best place to start is by visiting your GP.  Your doctor may be able to recognise your condition and give you an accurate diagnosis, but he may need to refer you to a specialist for further assessment, diagnosis and treatment. 

Remember that a diagnosis is a starting point and not an end.  Once you know what you are suffering from you can begin treatment and take the first steps to recovery.  If you are not satisfied with your doctor’s assessment of your condition you can always ask if he can refer you to see a specialist or counsellor for a second opinion.


Different mental illnesses will require different treatment.  Some conditions respond well to counselling or talking therapies whilst others may require medication.  Some mental illnesses, and some individuals may require a combination of both therapy and medication.

Your doctor will be able to refer you to a suitable counsellor or psychotherapist who specialises in your condition, if this is a path you both decide upon.  You may choose to arrange your own counselling sessions.  This can be easy to do and we have a counselling directory to help you find a therapist in your area. 

It is important that you feel comfortable with your counsellor and confident that they are right for you and able to benefit you by improving your condition.  Even when seeking private help, it is not uncommon for therapists to offer an initial consultation free of charge and this can be a useful opportunity to see whether you feel comfortable with this particular counsellor. You may not have as much flexibility through the NHS, however it is your right to see someone you are comfortable with so if you have genuine concern the therapist is not right for you, you do have the right to be heard and helped by a more suitable individual if there is one available.

Some people feel uneasy about taking medication.  Modern medicine has come a long way and drug treatment for mental illness can be very effective.  You may have to try one or two different medications before you find the one that is right for you.  Your doctor or health care professional will be able to answer any questions you may have about the medication which they prescribe for you.  Likewise, if you do not find that the medication is right for you, you can raise any concerns with your GP or psychiatrist.  They are there to help you.

Once you have your diagnosis this is a starting point for recovery and understanding.  There is no shame in having a mental health disorder.  If you had a diagnosis of, for example, diabetes you would expect understanding from others.  You should expect nothing less if you are diagnosed with a mental health disorder.

It is very important to seek help as soon as you can if you suspect that you may be suffering from a mental illness.  The sooner you seek the treatment you require, the sooner you can take the first steps on the road to a better life.  There really is no need to suffer in silence or shame.  Mental illness affects one in four people around the world and you are not alone, although you very often feel that you are the only person to go through the bewildering experience of mental ill health. 

With the right help and treatment you can start to understand what you are going through and start to live life to its fullest.

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