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Frequently Asked Questions - For Young People

Young people in a group discussionWhat does mental health mean?

The word 'mental' means 'of the mind'. It relates to your thoughts, feelings and understanding of yourself and the world around you.


The word 'health' relates to the working order of your body and mind. So when we refer to 'mental health' we are talking about the working order of your mind.

Mental illness

Sometimes our bodies stop working properly. We might catch a bug and become ill or we might have an accident and get hurt. In the same way, we can have problems with our mental health.


There are different types of mental health problems. These include depression, anxiety and schizophrenia

Mental distress

If we have problems with our mental health we might feel:

We might also think that we are:

Sometimes these feelings can be so strong that we feel they are too much to cope with. We then start becoming distressed by these feelings which make us feel bad.

When people become mentally ill

Describing mental illness

People use different words to explain that they have had problems with their mental health. Some say they had a mental illness. Others say they were mentally distressed, or they may say they had mental health problems.

What does mental illness look like?

You come out in spots when you have chicken pox, or if you have a cold your nose runs. But mental health problems are different. Sometimes you cannot tell if someone has a mental health problem.


You may notice that someone close to you has changed their behaviour. They might want to be alone all the time and do not want to go out, whereas before they were always chatting and enjoyed going to see different people and places.


These are some other signs of mental health problems to watch out for:

What causes mental illness?

We do not know what causes mental health problems, but some reasons include:

Understanding different mental health problems


If you feel depressed you feel very down and can’t be bothered with anything. You may think you are useless and no good. Things that used to make you laugh are no longer funny and activities you used to enjoy are not interesting any more. You may feel tired a lot, have to difficulty sleeping and lose your appetite. However, sometimes people eat and sleep more than usual when they feel depressed.

Things that can help include:

Did you know?


Famous people who have been depressed include Winston Churchill, Janet Jackson, Patsy Kensit and Caroline Aherne (Mrs Merton).

Manic depression

If you have manic depression sometimes you are very high or 'manic', and sometimes you are depressed and feeling very low.


When you are manic you might feel great. You might have lots of energy; you move and talk quickly, you have lots of ideas, anything seems possible, you don’t need much sleep and you feel very creative. You might also spend too much money, not be able to concentrate and feel irritable. In addition some people hear voices or see things that others cannot see. Some people become paranoid (that is, believe others want to harm them).

Things that can help include:

Did you know?


People with manic depression include Ben Stiller, Robert Downey Junior and Stephen Fry.

Postnatal depression

After having a baby, some mothers can get the 'baby blues'. This is often caused by hormone changes. They can feel tearful, worried and irritable for a little while. For some mothers the condition develops into something more serious, called 'postnatal depression'.


If a mother has postnatal depression she can feel hopeless, tearful, unable to cope, guilty, worried, fearful about the baby's safety, irritable, and unable to bond with her baby.

Things that can help include:

Did you know?


Famous mothers who have had postnatal depression include actresses Brooke Shields, Elle MacPherson and talk show hostess Trisha Goddard.


Feeling worried or anxious is something that a lot of people experience at certain times such as before taking exams, reading out at an assembly, or while waiting for a friend who is late. Feeling anxious makes your heart beat faster. You find it hard to concentrate, the same thoughts go round and around in your head, it can be hard to sleep, your palms feel sweaty, you get butterflies in your stomach and your legs turn into wobbly jelly.


A chemical called adrenaline causes these feelings. It is released into the blood stream when we feel worried or fearful. Adrenaline action is useful if we want to run away. But it is not so useful if it is triggered all the time.


If people feel anxious for much of the time this can interfere with your life and prevent you from doing things.


Things that can help include:

Did you know?


If you are anxious you can lose as much as 2.5 litres of water, as sweat, during the day.


Phobias are big fears of particular objects or situations. Things that can help include:

Did you know?


Some common phobias include:


Obsessions are unwanted thoughts or ideas that keep going around your head. They can be distressing and can prevent you from getting on with life. Sometimes you may have do things in a certain way. For example, if someone touches the table you may feel the need to go and wash it and if anyone interrupts you, you may feel you have to start again.


Things that can help include:

Eating problems

Sometimes people eat less food than their bodies need for fuel, and others eat more than their bodies need. There are three main types of eating problems.

Anorexia nervosa

If someone has anorexia nervosa, weight loss becomes a priority over every other aspect in life. Other frequent symptoms include a distorted body image, sleeping problems and feeling cold as a result of poor circulation.


Other signs of anorexia include:

Bulimia nervosa

People with bulimia nervosa typically overeat, then feel guilty, which can lead them to compensate by vomiting, purging with laxatives and /or excessive exercising. Bulimia can cause serious long-term physical harm because of the frequent vomiting or abuse of laxatives and/or excessive exercising. The signs of bulimia nervosa include:


Most people know what it is to overeat, especially at Christmas time. However, for some people, overeating is a common occurrence. They have a need to keep on eating even when full or turn to food when they feel upset or even when they are excited. Things that can help include:

Did you know?


Eating a very low fat diet can make you feel sad and irritable.


Schizophrenia The word 'schizophrenia' means split mind so some people think schizophrenia is like having a split personality, when sometimes you are OK and sometimes you act strangely.


This is not true; it is more like the mind has split away from the daily reality of life.


People with schizophrenia may:

Schizophrenia can feel very frightening. It can be hard to get support from other people, as many people with schizophrenia avoid others.

Things that can help include:

Did you know?


If you live in Africa and you develop schizophrenia, you are less likely to have problems than if you live in Britain. This may be due to the way in which African societies both understand and support people with schizophrenia.

Questions and answers

Sometimes when I am thinking deeply about things I find myself talking to myself. My family says talking to yourself is the first sign of madness. Am I going mad?

Probably not! At times we all find ourselves voicing thoughts in our head. Many people especially speak these thoughts out loud when they are alone. People sometimes associate talking to yourself with mental health problems because some people who hear voices that others cannot hear may converse or argue with their voices out loud. Others who cannot hear these voices might assume the person is talking to themselves.

If you hear voices, does that mean you have schizophrenia?

Not necessarily. People can hear voices for many different reasons such as bereavement, stress, as well as schizophrenia. Not all people with schizophrenia hear voices.

If you have a mental health problem are you more likely to be violent to others?

No. People with mental health problems are more likely to harm themselves than anyone else. Very rarely do people with mental health problems hurt or kill others, often because they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Most people who are attacked are hurt by individuals who do not have a mental illness but have been drinking or taking drugs. It is very unusual to be killed by a stranger who is mentally distressed.


Unfortunately, newspapers and television portray people with mental health problems as dangerous and many people gain their information from the media which gives this negative message. Fortunately, this kind of stigma is being reduced through high profile campaigns such as Time to Change.

There is a man who lives down our street. My mum says he is mentally ill. He walks funny, his hands shake, his eyes look like marbles and sometimes he dribbles when he talks. He scares me a little. Is that what mentally ill people look like?

Sometimes the medicines that are used to treat people with mental health problems can have side effects.. These side effects include trembling hands, a shuffling type of walk, glassy, staring eyes, muscle spasms and dribbling. These side effects, as well as being unpleasant, can make people avoid those with mental health conditions. Others can be frightened and not realise that these problems are caused by medication and not the mental health problem itself. It can feel very lonely and hurtful to be rejected or mocked by others just because of the effects of certain medicines.

Young carers

If you are looking after a parent or relative with mental health problems, life can be very difficult. You might experience feelings of anger, tiredness an overwhelming sense of responsibility. You may feel things are unfair or ask, 'Why me?'


It can be stressful looking after a parent. Some children can become anxious or depressed. It is important to look after your own needs and have someone that you can trust, talk to and get support and care from.


Sharing your feelings will probably make you feel better. You could talk someone like a trusted relative, teacher, school nurse, religious leader, youth worker/counsellor, a young carers group, or an organisation like Childline.

Fears and concerns

Developing a mental health problem

You may be worried that if your parent has a mental health problem, you might develop one yourself. Although scientists believe that some families pass on genes that make it more likely for someone to develop a mental illness, it does not mean if your parent has a mental health problem then you will, too.

Dealing with frightening or worrying words and behaviour

Sometimes, when a parent is mentally distressed, they may behave in a way that is hard to understand or they may say strange or hurtful things. Friends or people on the street may have no understanding of mental health problems, and say unkind words or behave in a nasty way. It may be difficult to talk with your parent at this time, and it is possible you can feel very alone, guilty and worried that you were responsible for your parent's distress.

Remember, whatever is said, you are not a bad person, and you didn't cause your parent's mental distress. It is important to get support and help from a trusted adult and be able to talk about your concerns with them whenever you need to.

Fears about asking for help

You may be worried about telling adults about your concerns and needs in case you risk ending up being placed into care, and/or your parent being taken to hospital. This kind of result is very unlikely. Speaking to a professional trusted adult about your concerns will allow the support systems to get started.

Anxieties about a parent going to hospital

You might feel guilty or angry if your parent has to go to hospital. Again, it is important to be able to talk about your feelings and to know that your parent's distress is not your fault, and that it is okay to feel how you do about the situation.


You may feel scared or unsure about what is happening to your parent while they are in hospital. To help deal with these feelings try to find out some information. Ask your GP or the hospital medical staff; visit the library, contact relevant organisations (you can find the addresses of some of these organisations on this website), and/or get a trusted person to help you.


You may also be concerned about what will happen to you if a parent goes into hospital and there are no adults at home. Under the Children's Act 1989, you have the right to ask to stay with a relative or friend.

Anxieties about being placed into care

Although this is a very real issue, social workers try to keep families together where at all possible. They would only place a child into care if they thought the child's health or development was suffering badly and they were not doing as well as they should be for their age.


Social workers should provide extra support to help families stay together.


Some families may need help with cleaning and cooking. Others might need more help actually caring for the parent.

Laws which can help families

Community Care Act (1990)

Under this act a social worker can come around to the house and see what support the parent with mental health problems need. This is called a Community Care Assessment. Social services are allowed to charge for services that are needed. There are rules about when they can charge and how much they can charge. This law is called the Health and Social Services and Social Adjudication's Act 1983, section (17). If the family thinks that social services are charging unfairly they can make a complaint. If you need help with this, your local Citizen's Advice Bureau may be able to help. To find the address of your local Citizen's Advice Bureau look in a telephone directory or ask at your local library.

Carers (Recognition and Services) Act, 1995

At the same time as having a Community Care assessment carried out, carers can ask for their needs to be looked at. Young carers have a right to ask social services for this.

Children's Act 1989 (Section 17)

As a young carer you may be seen as a 'child in need'. This means you have a right to receive extra support and services either for yourself or your family. This support may be needed in order to stay together as a family. Social services are not allowed to ask for money for these services if your parent is receiving income support or family credit.

Mental Health Act (Section 117)

If your parent has been assessed under the Mental Health Act 1983 and placed on a 'section three for treatment', they are entitled (under Section 117 of the Mental Health Act) to aftercare services when they leave hospital. These services can include things like help with cooking and cleaning, housing and employment.

Maintaining mental health

Being mentally healthy is having the ability to adapt and cope with change, and to make the best of any situation you may find yourself in. As you develop into a young adult you will be faced with many changes and choices and your mental health will play a part in this.

Your body

When you look in the mirror you may not see the reflection of a super model, sports person or favourite film celebrity, but you can still make the best of your inherited shape, features and colouring. Look out for advice on hair, make up or clothes in books, publications or magazines, or ask trusted family/friends, and hairdressers.

Try to eat a healthy, balanced diet and take regular exercise.


You may be concerned about physical changes, whether your body is developing at the same rate or in the same way as your friends. Many young people have the same worries and it can be good to talk to someone you trust, maybe a relative, teacher, or youth counsellor.


You may experience mixed emotions about what is happening to you and worry about relationships with your family and friends. You may be worried about the future.

You may also be aware of having sexual feelings and have questions about sex, your own sexuality, contraception and relationships. (It is unlawful to have sex under the age of 16, although you can still ask for advice on contraceptives.)


For further help and advice you can contact your GP (your GP has the right to inform your parents if you are under the age of 16), Brook Advisory Centre, family planning clinic, Youth Access, Young Minds or Childline.


You may have to make important choices regarding issues such as exams, which may affect your future career. You might be asked to experiment with sex, drugs, smoking, solvent abuse, or alcohol. Remember you can say no at any time. Your body belongs to you. Take time to make decisions, to decide what is right for you now. You also have the right to change your mind. It is okay to make mistakes. However, be careful, as some mistakes can never be put right (drug overdose for example). So think first and perhaps talk it through with a trusted friend or adult.


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