What affects our mental health
Life affects us all differently. We all go through difficult times, and negative emotions can be a healthy reaction to the challenges we face. But for many of us, things can become more serious, and each year as many as 1 in 4 of us experiences a mental health problem.
Being aware of what can affect our mental health can make it easier to understand when we, or someone we care about, are struggling, and helps us think about what we can do to improve things or where to get support.
Some of us are more deeply affected by events than others. How we deal with things can also depend on how well other parts of our life are going or how well supported we feel.
There are lots of things you can do and organisations that can help.
Our personal lives and relationships
Relationships are one of the most important aspects of our lives, yet we can often forget just how crucial our connections with other people are.
When we experience difficulties or changes in a relationship – with a partner, friend or family member – it can affect our mental health in many ways.
If you’re worried about your relationship and how it’s making you feel, it’s worth talking it over with someone you trust, or you may prefer to use a helpline or online resources.
There are lots of sources of support and information that can help if you need help with your relationships.
Caring for someone else
Looking after someone else can be a positive and rewarding experience, but it can also be mentally and physically draining.
Helping someone else gives you less time for your own needs and thoughts. Although you may really want to care for them, you may also find it difficult and upsetting, or might feel overwhelmed and unable to look after yourself properly.
The impact of bereavement
Over our lifetime we’re all likely to experience the loss of a friend or loved one. Whenever it happens, it will be a difficult time.
Grief affects us in different ways. There’s no right or wrong way to feel.
When we are bereaved, we are likely to feel waves of emotions as we come to terms with loss. These can include sadness, guilt, shock and anger. All are normal after a death.
Loneliness and mental health
Loneliness can affect anyone, young or old, and can happen in any situation. We may live in a busy city or a rural location, on our own or with others and still feel isolated.
We may be isolated physically or feel alone in a crowd, or we might be emotionally isolated because of something we have experienced that’s difficult to share.
Sometimes important life events make us lonely, like leaving school or work, moving home or having a baby. We may also face discrimination, which can make us feel lonely or excluded.
Discrimination and mental health
Discrimination can come in many different forms and can have a big effect on our mental health.
An act of discrimination could be losing out on a job or promotion because of who we are or what we believe in.
It may also mean not getting the support you need, feeling threatened or being excluded from a group.
Money, work or housing
Worrying about your financial situation, work issues or your housing situation can have a negative effect on your mental health.
Money worries and mental health
Money and mental health are often linked. Poor mental health can make managing money harder, and worrying about money can make your mental health worse.
Not having enough money or being in debt can make you feel:
- out of control
- depressed and anxious
Work and unemployment issues
Having a job can help us feel a sense of achievement, give us a feeling of belonging and connect us to others, on top of the obvious financial benefits.
But if we face stressful situations in the workplace or are unable to work, it can have a big impact on our health and wellbeing.
We sometimes face difficult issues around work, which may include:
- a lack of control of our workload
- high demands on our time and energy
- fear of redundancy
- poor line management
- difficult relationships with colleagues
- bullying or harassment in the workplace
- workplace discrimination
It’s not always clear what the best thing to do is, but if work issues are becoming difficult to deal with, there are ways you can get help.
Being out of work can affect our sense of identity and purpose, cause money worries and may make it difficult to maintain self-confidence, particularly if you’re unable to work or have been made redundant or unemployed.
It may also damage your confidence if you have missed out on opportunities or are stuck in a career rut, or do not know what to do next.
Although retirement is something many of us look forward to, it can also be a challenging time. But there are things you can do to help ease this transition from working life.
Our home environment and mental health
Damp or cold housing, overcrowding, problems with landlords and debt can all be bad for our mental wellbeing, even when we think the problem is only temporary or we know how to fix it.
Homelessness is extremely stressful and many of the things that cause it are beyond our control, such as disability and poverty.
Being homeless can make it even harder for someone with poor mental health to recover and find secure, stable housing and a job, as well as making it harder to form healthy relationships.
Life’s always changing, but sometimes we face a big or sudden change that is harder to deal with, whether it’s moving home, starting university, having a baby or starting to care for someone.
When things change
Even if the change is expected and positive, we can still struggle with the effects.
It helps to be aware how stressful change can be, but also be aware that the stress is unlikely to last. It’s important to take action if the effects last a long time after the change happened.
When things change, it can be helpful to understand what’s happening and how the change could be affecting us.
Young adults going to university can feel unsupported because their usual support network of family and friends are not around.
They may have difficulty adapting to new accommodation, the demands of the academic timetable and looking after themselves. This can naturally put a strain on their mental wellbeing.
Pregnancy and bringing up children
A pregnancy is a huge change in our lives, especially if it’s a first baby. It can be an exciting time, but physical changes can result in poor sleep caused by discomfort, and hormonal changes can result in up-and-down moods.
Some people cope with these changes well, but others find it harder, particularly if they have to deal with morning sickness or health conditions such as diabetes.
Relationships will also be tested, particularly with a partner who may also be worried or confused.
Miscarriage or stillbirth may be a big worry for many pregnant women and those around them. If a miscarriage or stillbirth happens, it can be devastating and can be linked to symptoms of trauma.
While many people are aware you can become depressed after having a baby, it’s less well known that many women experience anxiety during and after pregnancy. In fact, it’s common to experience depression and anxiety together.
Some people may be particularly anxious about childbirth. Some people may experience postnatal depression and a small number experience postpartum psychosis.
There are lots of sources of support and information that can help if you are pregnant, have had a baby or have been through a miscarriage.
Ageing and later life
Ageing happens to us all. Later life can be full of amazing new experiences. Retirement can give you newfound freedom, and grandchildren can be a joy.
But many of us find the change hard, especially if work played a major part of our lives. Sudden loss of status and financial security, and the withdrawal from social networks and activities at work can all affect our mental wellbeing.
When children leave home, it can also be a new phase of life, but it might feel as if the house is empty. It can also put a different focus on relationships with partners or friends, and this could cause friction.
You may also find that you’re caring for an elderly, ill or disabled parent or partner.
As we age, we may find we lose our financial or physical independence. We might struggle to go out or do things alone, or may not have the money to engage in activities we once enjoyed and that connected us to other people.
Being in a care home or having a long stay in hospital can break the familiar routines of our life, causing us to feel confused and maybe even depressed.
There are also natural changes to the body that are part of the ageing process. Some of these, such as the menopause, can often result in low mood and anxiety.
It can feel like signs of depression or struggles with our mental health are an inevitable part of getting older, but they do not need to be.
How we are physically affects how we feel mentally.
Health issues, long-term and serious illnesses
Health issues, medical appointments and tests may make us anxious, and our mood may get worse from being in pain.
A long-term, life-limiting or life-threatening illness can make us feel sad, worried or angry. Whether physical or mental, ill health can affect work, relationships and the way we relate to other people.
Living with a long-term physical illness can make us feel anxious or depressed, and being in pain can interfere with sleep.
Long-term conditions cannot be cured but can be managed. They come with a risk of social isolation, low self-esteem, stigma and discrimination. There are things we can do to look after our mental health, which in turn helps with managing a long-term condition.
Poor sleep, anxiety and low mood can also occur alongside less common mental illnesses, such as eating disorders, psychosis or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
It’s important to take care of your mind as well as your body and to get support if or when you need it.
Traumatic events and mental health
Some experiences can be devastating when they happen but also continue to have effects that last a long time.
Children who witness or experience trauma are more likely to have problems as adults.
There are many traumatic events that can affect mental health, such as:
- being neglected or abused as a child
- being sexually or physically abused as an adult
- experiencing relationship abuse
- living in areas of armed conflict
- working in the armed forces, emergency services or related professions, such as social work
Witnesses to traumatic events can also be strongly affected by them. You may feel confused, afraid or angry, and may also feel guilty, ashamed or numb about the events you have experienced.
Traumatic events can be things like serious accidents, natural or man-made disasters, or a traumatic childbirth.
When we experience traumatic events, our body’s defences take effect and create a stress response, which may make us feel physical changes or intense emotions, or behave differently.
Directly after the event, we may experience shock and denial. This can give way over hours or days to feelings like sadness, anger and guilt.
Many people feel better and recover gradually, but traumatic life events increase our risk of poorer mental health, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Smoking, drinking, gambling and drug misuse
Smoking, drug use, alcohol misuse and gambling can contribute to poor mental health. Equally, poor mental health can lead to increased substance misuse, smoking and addictive behaviours.
This means we can find ourselves trapped in a vicious circle.
For example, someone using cannabis to self-medicate their mental health issues might actually find themselves more anxious and paranoid in the short term, and could even go on to develop a psychotic illness.
Coupled with anxiety about getting the next drink, hit or win, substance misuse and addiction can make us feel guilty, worried about money, and put a strain on our relationships.
Quitting smoking and drugs, cutting down on alcohol and managing our gambling can help us take back control of our moods and emotions.
People who smoke, for instance, can mistakenly believe that stopping smoking will negatively affect their mental health. But it can actually reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.