Mental health 101: an illustration of stigmas and taboos

Whilst we have addressed some of the stigmas & taboos faced by individuals with mental health disorders, we would like to add that these are not culture/religion specific, it is just something we have noted and heard from members of our community/friends and family.

Furthermore, we have also provided ways in which you or someone you know can seek help. Please note we are not experts but we are trying to raise awareness around the topic.

Anxiety & Depression

Anxiety &anxiety&depression depression usually go hand in hand. Anxiety is a type of fear associated with the thought of something going wrong in the present or future. Depression causes an individual to feel down or sad. A person will experience intense emotions of negativity that stay with them instead of going away.

If you’ve been feeling down for more than two weeks, visit your GP to discuss your symptoms. They will be able to tell you about the choice of treatments available and advise you on what might be the most suitable for you. There are many treatment options for anxiety and depression, here we have highlighted a few, these include; self-help, talking therapies and lifestyle factors.

Self-help treatments involve working from a book or computer programme and are often a first call approach to helping an individual with anxiety. In some cases, you may be closely supported by a trained therapist who will monitor your progress. It is recommend to have Self-help treatments before having intensive psychological therapy or medication. 

Another form of treatment recommended by The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is based on the principles of cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is a type of psychological treatment that can help you understand your condition better and how your problems, thoughts, feelings and behaviour affect each other. The aim of CBT-based treatments is to help you learn ways to manage your anxiety by modifying negative or unhelpful behaviour and thoughts. Support groups can give you useful advice about how to effectively manage your anxiety and depression. They are also a good way to meet other people with similar experiences. Examples of support groups you may find useful include: Anxiety AllianceAnxiety UKMindRethink Mental Illness. Ask your GP about local support groups for anxiety in your area or search online for mental health information and support services near you.

Regular exercise, particularly aerobic exercise, may help you combat stress and release tension. It also encourages your brain to release the chemical serotonin, which can improve your mood. You should aim to do a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week. Moderate-intensity exercise should raise your heart rate and make you breathe faster. You may find relaxation and breathing exercises helpful, or you may prefer activities such as yoga or pilates to help you unwind. You can also try this five-minute audio guide to dealing with anxiety. Avoiding drinks containing caffeine – such as coffee, tea, fizzy drinks and energy drinks – this may help reduce your anxiety levels. Smoking and alcohol have been shown to make feelings of anxiety worse. You can read more about alcohol units and stopping smoking.

Eating Disorder

Eating disordereating disorders, such as Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge eating, are categorized by an abnormal attitude towards food, resulting in a change in eating habits and behaviour. Individuals focus excessively on their weight and shape, leading them to make unhealthy & damaging choices.

It is usually very difficult for people with eating disorders to get better on their own. It is important that you find help and support. There are a variety of ways either you, or someone you care about, can gain support and treatment. To find what help is available in your area you can look through helpFinder. Youth Access also has a directory of free counselling and advice for young people 25 and under. The Site has a directory of organisations that can help with a variety of issues.

Seeing a GP can be a good start. It is important to have the correct diagnosis. Your doctor can refer you to specialist professionals like psychiatrists, psychologists, dietitians, nutritionists, and counsellors – it may not be possible to access this support without seeing a doctor. If seeing a doctor is difficult perhaps you could talk to the practice nurse or someone at school or college that you trust.

Friends can be of great support in helping people cope with this illness. Beat’s experience shows that support from friends and family can really help people to recover even when they are receiving professional help and advice.

The Beat Youthline is available for confidential support and information for anyone in the UK. The service is provided for young people who are seeking help to overcome their eating disorder and for young friends and relatives. You can call the Youthline on 0845 634 7650. Open from Mon – Fri 4:30pm – 8:30pm and Sat 1:00pm – 4:30pm. They are able to call young people back to save your phone bill, except on Saturdays. The Beat Network Self Help and Support Groups are for people aged over 18 and provide a place to share feelings with others who have similar experiences. Beat runs groups all around the country for people with eating disorders and their families. For more information click here.

Self help books can offer more of an insight into your illness and also offer step by step guidance to help you on the road to recovery. For more info on the books stocked by Beat click here.


schizophreniaSchizophrenia is described as having severely disrupted beliefs and experiences. During an episode, a person’s understanding & interpretation of the outside world is altered – they may lose touch with reality, see or hear things that are not there, and respond to their delusions and hallucinations.

If you think you need professional help, the first step is to visit your GP. If you are experiencing symptoms related to schizophrenia, your GP will probably refer you to psychiatric services for an assessment, treatment and care.

Talking treatments provide a regular time and space for you to talk about your troubles and explore difficult feelings with a trained professional. You have the right to ask for talking treatments from your GP. These treatments are free on the NHS but they are not available in all parts of England and Wales. Waiting times can be long too so you might choose to pay for a private therapist. Private therapists should be appropriately trained and accredited. (See Useful contacts for details of where to find accredited therapists.)

Another form of therapy is based on CBT, which aims to identify connections between thoughts, feelings and behaviour, and to help develop practical skills to manage any negative patterns of thinking or behaviour that may be causing you difficulties.

If you live with or have regular contact with your family, family intervention therapy can help. The aim of this type of therapy is to help family members develop communication, problem solving, information sharing and coping skills together.  The whole family will be able to have a say in how this works, for example it might be done as a group or one-to one. Other types of talking treatment

Doctors usually prescribe antipsychotic drugs (also known as neuroleptic drugs or major tranquillisers) to control the ‘positive’ symptoms of schizophrenia (See About schizophrenia). Not everybody finds antipsychotics helpful and they can cause unpleasant side effects.


OCDObsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a common form of anxiety involving distressing and repetitive thoughts. These unwanted obsessions come about automatically and cause a repetitive behaviour that needs to be carried out to try to temporarily relieve the unpleasant feelings.

If you are concerned that you have OCD, and you want to seek professional help, the first step would normally be to visit your GP. However, the treatments recommended are not appropriate for everyone. There are a number of options available to treat OCD and different things work for different people. You may find that a combination of approaches is most helpful for you, and different approaches may help you at different times.

CBT aims to help you develop practical skills to manage any negative patterns of thinking or behaviour that may be causing you difficulties. It can be done one-to-one, or in a group. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this therapy is especially effective in dealing with OCD.

The behavioural element (also known as Exposure Response Prevention – ERP) is strongly recommended for treating OCD. ERP works by helping you to confront your obsessions and resist the urge to carry out compulsions. The aim is to help you feel less anxious about obsessive thoughts over time, and make you less likely to engage in compulsive behaviour.

Some people find medication helpful for OCD, either alone or combined with talking treatments, such as CBT.

Dual Diagnosis

dualdiagnosisDual diagnosis is a term used to describe individuals with severe mental illness and problematic drug and/or alcohol use. In some cases, personality disorder may also co-exist with the mental illness and substance misuse.

Contacting your local NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS) to see whether they can help.

If you are not already getting help with your mental health from your local mental health team, a good first step is to make an appointment to see your GP.  Your GP may offer you medication and therapy to treat your mental illness and refer you to a drug and alcohol service to help you with your drug use.

You can also find a number of organisations that can help you deal with your substance misuse.

Bipolar Disorder

dualdiagnosisBipolar disorder is described as extreme swings in mood – from periods of overactive, excited behaviour, known as ‘mania’ or ‘manic episodes’, to deep depression. In-between these periods, individuals may experience stability with regards to their emotions. In some cases, visual and auditory hallucinations and delusions have been reported.  

Most people tend to seek help when they go through a depressive episode and so can sometimes be wrongly diagnosed. If you feel depressed, but are aware that you have experienced mania, it will help the doctor to know about this. It is also best to eliminate any potential physical causes of any symptoms you may be experiencing. For example, an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) can mimic the symptoms of bipolar disorder. It can therefore be helpful to ask your GP to check this with a thyroid test (this is a simple blood test). Street drugs like cocaine, khat, ecstasy or amphetamine can also cause symptoms similar to mania.

If your GP thinks you may have bipolar disorder, they may refer you to a psychiatrist. Your psychiatrist or GP should explain all of your options to you and your views should be taken into account before any treatment is started. If a treatment does not suit you, say so and ask for other options.

NICE suggest that you should be offered structured psychological treatment while you are relatively stable but may be experiencing mild to moderate symptoms. Psychological treatment would be given in addition to medication and should be offered in at least 16 sessions. 

Almost everyone who has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder will be offered medication. Although drugs cannot cure bipolar disorder, many people find that they help to manage the symptoms. However, they should be seen as part of a much wider treatment that takes account of your individual needs. The drugs used include lithium, anticonvulsants and antipsychotics. It is very important to monitor your physical health when taking any of these drugs.

Talking treatments, including counselling and psychotherapy, can reduce risk of further episodes considerably, and many people find them helpful. They can help you understand why you feel as you do, and change both the way you think and feel. They can give you an opportunity to talk about difficult feelings and experiences you have while dealing with bipolar disorder and so may help you to cope better with it. Unfortunately, receiving NHS talking therapies for bipolar disorder is rare outside a hospital setting. However, you may find a local organisation offering a low-fee scheme. Contact Mind’s Infoline for details of your local services. See talking treatments for more information on this whole topic.



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