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Mental health centre

Is it time for a mental health check-up?

WebMD Feature
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

When we're feeling physically unwell we take it easy, get some medicine or go and see the GP. What about our mental health? Do we look after it in the same way?

Mental health issues can often be brushed under the carpet and not confronted like physical health problems, as there's still some degree of stigma.

"If you're in good mental health, you can make the most of your potential, cope with life, play a full part in your family, workplace, community and among friends," says Dr Antonis Kousoulis from the Mental Health Foundation.

"Some people call mental health 'emotional health' or 'wellbeing' and it's just as important as good physical health. Your mental health doesn't always stay the same. It can change as circumstances change and as you move through different stages of your life," he adds.

A common problem

It's estimated that 1 in 4 people in the UK experience a mental health issue every year.

Depression, anxiety, or both, are the most common forms of mental illness. "Despite this, mental health is still a taboo topic and often people feel unable to talk about their thoughts and feelings," says Stephen Buckley from the mental health charity MIND.

There may be a trigger for an issue such as bereavement, divorce or job loss but it may just come on gradually for no discernible reason.

Preventative steps

There are certain things you can do to protect your mental wellbeing. They include making time for relaxation, exercise, eating well, having connections with people and talking about how you are feeling.

Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at Warwick Medical School, says wellbeing is often not taken seriously enough.

"Our mental wellbeing directs the balance of the autonomic nervous system. This controls processes in our bodies like digestion, breathing, immunity and repair," she says. "People think wellbeing is a woolly concept when in fact it's fundamentally important to both our physical health and mental health."

She says: "We are brainwashed into thinking how we feel doesn't matter, but to be really healthy we need to get into a habit of relaxing, watching our thought processes and taking how we feel more seriously. There are quite simple steps that you can take to improve things, like making sure you factor in time to do things that give you pleasure and satisfaction, and making sure that you notice the things that are going well in your life as well as the problems."

Symptoms and signs

Signs that your mental health is under strain aren't the same for everyone. Most people have bad moods now and again, but if you've been feeling sad for weeks or even months that may be depression.

"Symptoms of mental health problems may vary from person to person, but there are some common signs to look out for," says Stephen. "For example, someone with depression might feel restless, low-spirited, numb or helpless, sleep too much or too little, not eat properly, withdraw from contact with friends or family, or even in some cases think about suicide."

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