Common mental health conditions.

Following on from our post on workplace mental health and well-being; the elephant in the room, in this blog we are going to look at common mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression but what do these terms actually mean?

Depression

Everyone feels sad when bad things happen to them however this shouldn’t be confused with depression as most people soon recover from a spell of sadness with no lasting effects. However if this low mood remains it can develop into clinical depression which can have a physical and psychological effect on a person.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that a person who is clinically depressed will have at least two of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:

  • An unusually sad mood that does not go away
  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities that used to be enjoyable
  • Lack of energy and tiredness.

People who are depressed can also have other symptoms such as:

  • Loss of confidence in themselves or poor self-esteem
  • Feeling guilty when not at fault
  • Wishing they were dead or having suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty in concentrating or making decisions
  • Bleak views of the future
  • Finding it difficult to sleep or sleeping too much
  • Loss of interest in food or eating too much leading to weight gain/loss

How many symptoms someone has depends on the severity but the following can be used as a guide.

Mild depression-4 of the 10 symptoms over past 2 weeks

Moderate depression- 5-7 of the 10 symptoms over past 2 weeks

Severe- 8 of the 10 symptoms over past 2 weeks

This WHO video shows what it is like to live with depression:

Anxiety disorders

Anxiety is a natural emotion that we all experience. It has evolved over time and is designed to keep us safe, enable us to solve problems and be useful to us. Anxiety however becomes a problem (and a disorder) when it becomes too intense, is long lasting and interferes with someone’s life, work or relationships.

Symptoms of anxiety

Anxiety effects the whole person and presents in physical, psychological and behavioural ways.

Physical

  • Palpitations, chest pain, rapid heartbeat and flushes
  • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath
  • Dizziness, headache, sweating, tingling and numbness
  • Choking, dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, urinary frequency and diarrhoea
  • Muscle aches and pains (especially in neck, shoulders and lower back) restlessness

Psychological effects

  • Unrealistic and/or excessive fear and worry about past and future events
  • Racing mind or going blank
  • Concentration and memory problems
  • Difficulty in making decisions
  • Irritability, impatience or anger
  • Confusion 
  • Restlessness or nervousness 

Behavioural effects

  • Avoidance of situations
  • Repetitive compulsive behaviour e.g. excessive checking or reassurance seeking
  • Distress of social situations
  • Urges to escape situations that cause discomfort

Anxiety disorders can present in different forms which won’t be covered in detail in this email but go under the headings of:

  • Panic disorder
  • Social phobia
  • Social phobia
  • Agoraphobia
  • Acute stress disorder (ASD)
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Generalised anxiety disorder

To finish this blog off here’s a simple exercise that we challenge you to have a go at called a grounding technique that can really help with the symptoms of anxiety. If this is practiced when you are feeling calm, then you will have it ready to use for the times you may be feeling anxious. The aim of this exercise is to calm both your body and mind and realign your system, bringing you into the here and now in a mindful way.

There are three simple steps:

  1. Sit down with your feet flat on the floor – this literally grounds you and makes you feel safe 
  2. Take ten slow breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping your mind focussed on your breathing, you can close your eyes if this helps 
  3.  Open your eyes and name something you can see, hear, smell, taste and touch

That’s it! It is as simple as that. What you have actually just done is focussed your mind and body on the here and now rather than allowing it to wander into the realms of anxious thinking. You have calmed any physical symptoms of anxiety by slowing your breathing and you have brought your mind into the present by considering all five of your senses. 

You can do this is a really meditative way, taking time to close your eyes and have a few minutes out, or you can do this in a more subtle way sat at your desk at work and nobody needs to know you are doing it. It is however important not to do this while you are driving!