Your most Googled questions on mental health, answered

This year, to mark Mental Health Awareness Week (May 10-16), will shine the spotlight on a range of mental health issues, told by a diverse range of voices.

We’ve invited eight well-known mental health advocates to take over our site, all of whom will bring their own unique perspective while commissioning work from other writers on a variety of mental health-related topics.

Being in lockdown for over a year has taken its toll on many people’s mental health, with one NHS doctor warning that the country is in the grip of a ‘mental health pandemic.’

As we embark on this week-long campaign, we take it back to basics and answer your most Googled questions on ‘mental health’ – from what it means, to how to get support for yourself or others if you’re experiencing poor mental health.

What is mental health?

According to Google Trends data, one of the most common searches is simply ‘what is mental health’.

‘Mental health’ is simply the umbrella term given to your psychological and emotional wellbeing – it affects how we think, feel, and act.

Mental health also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.

Everyone has mental health – not just people with diagnosed disorders.

We all have to look after and maintain it, just as we would with our physical health. To look after our bodies we exercise, sleep, take medicine, and eat well – but looking after mental health can be a little more complicated, as it falls on a spectrum.

Over the course of your life, if you experience mental health problems, your thinking, mood, and behavior could be affected.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including:

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences, such as trauma or abuse
  • Family history of mental health problems

Mental health problems are defined and classified to help experts refer people for the right care and treatment.

The symptoms are grouped in two broad categories – neurotic (extreme forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression and anxiety) and psychotic (which interfere with a person’s perception of reality, such as schizophrenia).

What is mental capacity?

‘Mental capacity’ means being able to make your own decisions.

Someone lacking capacity – because of an illness or disability such as a mental health problem, dementia, or a learning disability – cannot do one or more of the following four things:

  • Understand information given to them about a particular decision
  • Retain that information long enough to be able to make the decision
  • Weigh up the information available to make the decision
  • Communicate their decision

If you feel like you are lacking mental capacity, then you can contact a solicitor and grant a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) to another person (or people) to enable them to make decisions about your health and welfare, or decisions about your property and financial affairs.

You can also make an advance care plan, also known as an advanced statement.

Please note that advance statements are not legally binding.

The aim is to provide a guide for anyone who might have to make decisions in a person’s best interests if that person has lost the capacity to make decisions or communicate their decision – this may include whether you want to be put in a care home, whether you refuse to have certain surgery or treatments, and even your funeral plans.

You should discuss what’s in your plan with the people important to you, as well as your doctor and nurse.

If someone you love loses their mental capacity, then you may want to register for power of attorney. This means that you can make legal decisions for them.

The person you believe lacks mental capacity may be someone outside your immediate circle, such as a colleague or casual friend. In this case, you can apply to search the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) registers to see if someone has another person acting on their behalf.

How to improve mental health

Mental health is unique to every person, and not every technique or treatment will help everyone.

However, there are some expert-approved practical ways to look after your mental health:

  • Talk to someone about how you’re feeling
  • Eat healthily
  • Get enough sleep
  • Get a hobby
  • Put your phone down/log off from social media
  • Get some fresh air
  • Meditate
  • Exercise regularly has previously written about how to take care of your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

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What is a mental breakdown?

A nervous or mental breakdown is a term used to describe a period of intense mental distress. During this period, you’re unable to function in your everyday life.

There isn’t one agreed-upon definition for what defines a nervous breakdown.

It’s generally viewed as a period when physical and emotional stress becomes intolerable and impair one’s ability to function effectively.

According to Healthline, the most common symptoms to look out for include:

  • Depressive symptoms, such as thoughts of suicide or self-harm
  • Anxiety with high blood pressure, tense muscles, clammy hands, dizziness, upset stomach, and trembling or shaking
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme mood swings or unexplained outbursts
  • Panic attacks
  • Paranoia, such as believing someone is watching you or stalking you
  • Flashbacks of a traumatic event

If you feel like you are on the verge of a mental breakdown, or someone you know is, you need to seek help immediately and get in touch with a GP.

Your GP will ask questions and make a necessary diagnosis and prescribe medication if needed, as well as therapeutic interventions.

Book an emergency doctor’s appointment, call the NHS at 111, or contact a mental health helpline (such as the Samaritans, which is open 24/7 and can be reached by calling 116 123) for guidance.

You can even go to Accident & Emergency (A&E) for urgent care.

There, dedicated staff members will be on hand to deal with such a crisis – you are not alone.

What is a mental health nurse and how to become one?

Mental health nurses are responsible for planning and providing support and medical and nursing care to people who have a range of mental health issues.

Mental health nurses are usually based in hospitals, for example on a psychiatric ward or specialist unit, or in the community where they work in a community health centre or in someone’s home.

To become a mental health nurse, the main route is through a degree course at university. Entry requirements for these courses can vary depending on where and how you’d like to study so it’s important to check with universities.

There are other routes into mental health nursing such as nurse degree apprenticeships and nursing associate apprenticeships – you can find out more about these on the NHS careers website.

Why is mental health important?

Taking care of your mental health is as important as taking care of your physical wellbeing.

Good mental health practices can help you feel happier, more motivated, and make the most out of life.

Poor mental health can be as harmful as physical illnesses.

In fact, according to the NHS, suicide is the leading cause of death for men under 50.

The coronavirus pandemic has undoubtedly had a devastating impact on people’s mental health.

In a survey of 6,305 people by BACP and YouGov, shared exclusively with, it was found that of the 67% who said they had experienced any kind of mental health issue in the last five years, 85% said their mental health had been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

And among the people who hadn’t previously experienced mental health issues in the past five years, 48% said the same.

Is mental health a disability?

A mental health condition is considered a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. This is defined under the Equality Act 2010.

Your condition is ‘long term’ if it lasts, or is likely to last, 12 months.

‘Normal day-to-day activity’ is defined as something you do regularly in a normal day, including interacting with people and doing your job.

If your mental health condition renders you disabled, you can get support at work from your employer.

Find more information on the government website.

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How to become a mental health counsellor

A mental health counsellor helps people talk about their feelings. They encourage patients to look at their choices and find their own way to make a positive change in their life.

To become a counsellor, you are likely to need a recognised counselling qualification. There are different types and levels of course available including at diploma, degree and postgraduate level.

Find out about acredited courses on the Professional Standards Authority website.

How many people suffer from mental health problems?

The vast majority of people will experience some kind of mental health problem in their lives.

It becomes defined as a problem when it seriously impacts your day-to-day life over a long period of time.

In 2020, mental health charity Mind found that one in four people will experience a mental health problem of some kind each year in England, and 792 million people are affected by mental health issues worldwide.

At any given time, one in six working-age adults have symptoms associated with bad mental health – however, an overwhelming majority will never seek diagnosis or treatment.

How to get help with mental health – who can I talk to?

Seeking help is often the first step in your journey to getting better, but it can be hard to know how to start or where to turn to.

For many of us, our local GP practice is the first place we go to when we’re unwell.

You GP may make a diagnosis, offer you support and treatments (such as therapies and medication), or refer you to a mental health specialist.

You could also self-refer to a private therapist. It is important to find the right therapist for you and your needs.

Another option is contacting a mental health charity, such as Samaritans (by calling 116 123 for free, or emailing [email protected]). There is a whole list of listening services available, each catering to a specific group or need.

Need support for your mental health?

You can contact mental health charity Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text them on 86463.

Mind can also be reached by email at [email protected]

Is overthinking a mental illness?

Overthinking itself is not a disorder, but it can be a symptom of a deeper issue.

Everyone overthinks from time to time, obsessing and worrying is human nature. It is only considered to be a sign of a disorder when it interferes with the quality of your life for an extended period of time.

There are many different kinds of anxiety disorders where an individual engages in overthinking.

Some mental health diagnoses where a person can’t stop their brain from rumination are PTSD, trauma, agoraphobia, panic disorder, selective mutism, separation anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, substance-induced anxiety disorders, or it could potentially be a symptom of some other illness.

A common treatment for overthinking is Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT). CBT helps people challenge their negative or irrational thinking and change their thoughts into productive, positive ones.

CBT aims to help you deal with overwhelming problems in a more positive way, by reshaping your thinking – during your sessions, you’ll work with your therapist to break down your problems into their separate parts, such as your thoughts, physical feelings, and actions.

It does not ‘cure’ someone of overthinking, but it does teach them coping skills to manage it in their daily life.

Danielle Haig, Principal Psychologist from DH Consulting, told that shared that the most important thing to do to combat overthinking is is to be self-aware: ‘You must catch yourself overthinking to stop yourself.

A great way to do this is to say out loud, “Stop!” it really helps to verbalise this to break this loop of worried thoughts.’

Haig also recommends forms of healthy distraction such as reading, exercising, mediation, dancing or listening to music.

How to help someone with mental health issues

If you’ve noticed someone behaving out of character, which could be a sign that they are developing poor mental health – so what can you do to help?

There are six simple ways you could support them:

It is crucial that you encourage them to seek professional help, whether that is contacting their doctor, or pointing them towards resources such as mental health helplines.

Mental health charity Mind gives practical suggestions to support people with a whole range of mental health issues, from OCD to schizophrenia, and from eating disorders to panic attacks.

Remember that although it is important to support your loved ones, it is also crucial that you look after yourself. Taking care of someone struggling with their mental health can be a burden on your own, and so it is important to continually check in with yourself and set boundaries.

You are not responsible for their mental health.

Michelle Elman, author of The Joy Of Being Selfish: Why You Need Boundaries And How To Set Them, explained to ‘People think that in order to be a good person, you need to put other’s needs before your own.

‘And, if you do put your needs first, you are considered selfish.

‘The problem is, once you’ve put everyone else’s needs first, there is usually no time or energy left for you.

‘The cost of being selfless is your own self-care.’

Is autism a mental health disorder?

Autism is not a mental health problem. It’s a developmental condition that affects communication and behavior.

However, people with autism do often experience mental health problems, most commonly anxiety, depression, ADHD, or OCD.

People commonly mistake Autism for a mental health problem. In fact, it was only earlier this year that the Mental Health Act was amended to ensure that mental illness is the reason for incarceration and not autism or learning disabilities in themselves.

This change was welcomed, as previously hundreds of autistic people and those with learning disabilities were unfairly sectioned every year.

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What is forensic mental health?

Forensic mental health nursing is concerned with the management and treatment of offenders with mental health issues.

It deals with patients who encounter the criminal justice system because of their mental health issues or who become unwell following a criminal offence.

The main idea behind forensic mental health is the assessment and management of risk, in particular, the risk posed to others.

Forensic mental health nurses support people all the way through their time in the criminal justice system – from the point of arrest in police stations, through custody, within prisons or in secure hospitals, and as they reenter society.

How can exercise improve mental health?

Exercise can improve mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood.

When you exercise, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body, making you happier.

People who exercise regularly tend to do so because it gives them a great sense of well-being. They feel more energetic throughout the day, sleep better at night, have sharper memories, and feel more relaxed and positive about themselves and their lives.

For example, a year-long study by England Athletics in 2016 of 13,000 people revealed that 74% of runners say that running has improved their mental health and general wellbeing.

Similarly, a study by Care New England of 122 adults with moderate depression – who hadn’t responded successfully to antidepressants – were assigned either 10 weeks of hatha yoga or health education classes, twice a week.

Researchers found that yoga ‘did indeed have an impact on depression symptoms’ and helped people reduce emotional eating.

Recent research by PureGym found that 98% of its members believe their gym plays an important role in their mental wellbeing. has put together basic workout routine for beginners.

What to do in a mental health crisis

A mental health crisis is when you feel at breaking point, and you need urgent help.

Mental health crises can be brought on by a whole range of reasons, such as bereavement, addiction, abuse, money problems, relationship breakdown, workplace stress, exam stress, or housing problems.

However, it is possible you may not know why you’re having a crisis.

During a crisis, you may be:

  • Feeling extremely anxious and having panic attacks or flashbacks
  • Feeling suicidal, or self-harming
  • Having an episode of hypomania (feeling very high), or psychosis (which can materialise as hearing voices or feeling very paranoid)

If you need help for a mental health crisis or emergency, you should immediately seek help.

Visit the NHS website to find your local urgent mental health helpline.

You can also:

  • Call 111 and ask to speak to a mental health nurse, or to arrange an emergency GP appointment
  • Call 116 123 to talk to Samaritans, or email: [email protected] for a reply within 24 hours
  • Text ‘SHOUT’ to 85258 to contact the Shout Crisis Text Line, or text ‘YM’ if you’re under 19
  • Call 0800 1111 to talk to Childline if you’re under 19

Need support? Contact the Samaritans

For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.

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