Mental Health Awareness Week 2024: a dive into six of the most common mental health issues in the UK

Purple logo that reads Mental Health Foundation: Mental Health Awareness Week 13-19 May 2024
Sarah Wilkinson
Sarah Wilkinson

Money Coaching Training Developer

A dive into some of the UK’s most common mental health conditions and how you can support someone who is struggling with their mental health. 

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Week is on the horizon (13–19 May). Here at CAP, we see just how intertwined mental ill-health and poverty can be, and with around 1 in 4 of us experiencing a mental health problem each year, it’s so important that we talk about it.

A lot of our local church-based frontline teams are meeting people every day who deal with a variety of mental health struggles, and are always keen to learn more about how best to support those people. I’d love this blog to bring some basic awareness to some of the most common mental health conditions people in the UK are facing, because they’re all around us, from those we’re meeting on community visits as part of our face-to-face debt help service, to our loved ones, and even ourselves.

As we learn together this Mental Health Awareness Week, my hope is that you’d begin to feel more confident in tackling mental ill-health. This might look like starting the conversation about mental health, assisting someone in getting the support they need, accessing support yourself, or better understanding different conditions in order to make sure those with mental ill-health feel supported, included and integrated into society.

Please note: The information contained in this blog is not medical advice. Please read with care. If you, or someone you are with, are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E.

What is mental health?

Mental health affects how we act, think and feel, and includes our psychological, emotional and social well-being.

We all experience different aspects of mental health throughout our lives. However, the state of our mental health can determine how we handle stress, how well we’re able to function day-to-day, and how we relate to others.

The Mindful Employer states that mental ill-health’ covers a very wide spectrum from everyday worries that we all experience, to suicidal depression and the loss of reality.

What are the most diagnosed mental health issues?

Here are some of the most common mental health conditions in the UK, the symptoms a person with those conditions may experience, and how each condition may affect someone’s life.

1. Stress

Although stress is not typically considered a mental health condition, it’s connected to our mental health in many ways. It can also trigger mental health problems or make them worse.

Healthy levels of stress can give us the adrenaline boost we need to be productive or meet a deadline. However, too much stress can leave you overwhelmed, and can also affect your physical health.

What impact can stress have on someone?

Stress can cause difficulty in making decisions or performing tasks. Excessive levels of stress can impact our psychological well-being, which may lead to anxiety and/​or depression, or make them worse.

At times, our resilience to stress (or our ability to bounce back after periods of stress) can go up or down. Some people may find that stress generally has a huge impact on them, whether it’s due to other existing mental or physical health conditions, neurodivergence or situational factors.

2. Depression

Depression is a mood disorder that causes constant sadness or loss of pleasure. However, depression is more than just feeling sad’ – it can be long-lasting and have a big impact on your life.

What are the symptoms of depression?

Symptoms of depression can include:

  • Low mood
  • Tiredness or lack of energy
  • Problems sleeping
  • Feeling hopeless or unable to cope
  • Lack of interest in things that used to bring joy
  • Feeling tearful
  • Feeling numb
  • Anxiety
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Aches and pains

What impact can depression have on someone?

Every person’s experience is different. Some people may be able to carry on with their everyday lives, including socialising and working. However, for others, this can be more difficult. Some people may feel like harming themselves, or even feel suicidal (want to end their life).

Note: a person’s external appearance or level of functioning doesn’t necessarily match how they’re feeling on the inside. That’s why it’s good to talk about it!

3. Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder involves experiencing extreme highs and extreme lows (sometimes both at the same time).

What are the symptoms of bipolar disorder?

In a low episode, those with bipolar may experience symptoms of depression, such as feeling tired and low mood.

In a high episode (often called mania’ or hypomania’ depending on how severe the episode is) a person may be full of energy and feel like they can take on the world. They may struggle to sleep and have racing thoughts.

Those with bipolar disorder may struggle with impulsivity, leading to behaviours such as self-harm, substance-misuse, or reckless spending.

They may also experience psychosis. They may see or hear things that other people cannot (hallucinations), or believe things that are not true (delusions).

What impact can bipolar disorder have on someone?

Many people with bipolar disorder, with the right support, are able to manage their condition well. However, it can also be difficult to carry out everyday tasks, maintain relationships or go to school or work.

Living with bipolar disorder can feel isolating, especially if those around you are unsure how to support you. That’s why it’s important for us to learn more about the disorder, including how to best support a friend or loved one. And if you’re not sure, you can always ask!

4. Anxiety disorders

Anxiety is a feeling of unease, worry, fear or panic. Anxiety disorders are diagnosed when your symptoms are overwhelming or always present. There are many different mental health conditions that come under the bracket of anxiety disorders’, including:

  • Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
  • Phobias
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Panic Disorder
  • Agoraphobia or Claustrophobia
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Each of these has its own specific set of symptoms, and may be treated differently.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

Anxiety disorders can cause lots of different physical and psychological (mental) symptoms. General anxiety symptoms may include:

  • Feeling restless, nervous, or worried
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Dizziness, chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Avoiding the things that make you anxious
  • Panic attacks (sudden onset of severe symptoms, including difficulty breathing, pins and needles, shaking or feeling disconnected from the world around you)

Note: Despite their severity, panic attacks are physically harmless. If you’re unsure if someone is experiencing a panic attack, seek medical attention. To help someone through a panic attack, stay calm and ask what that person needs, whether that’s someone to breathe slowly with them, move somewhere quieter, or distract them.

What impact can anxiety have on someone?

Someone experiencing anxiety may avoid places or situations that trigger their symptoms. This can lead to social isolation, and impact a person’s ability to work or do routine activities, in turn leading to feelings of depression or shame.

5. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

The word personality disorder’ can be misleading, because it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with someone’s personality or character. Having a personality disorder simply means experiencing a big difference in the way you think, feel, behave and relate to others, compared to the average person.

It’s thought that personality disorders are often caused by environment and social circumstances, with traumatic early childhood experiences playing a significant role.

There are many different personality disorders, but the most commonly diagnosed in the UK is Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

What are the symptoms of BPD?

BPD is characterised by:

  • Intense and unstable emotions
  • Overwhelming fear of abandonment or rejection
  • A lack of sense of self (who you are, what you like, your wants and needs)
  • Finding it hard to build or maintain relationships
  • Impulsive and dangerous behaviours or maladaptive coping mechanisms

What impact can personality disorders such as BPD have on someone?

The impact of personality disorders varies from person to person, especially since a wide range of people can be diagnosed with one disorder but have vastly different experiences. A few commonly shared difficulties include difficulty forming or maintaining stable friendships, challenges with regulating your emotions, and not being aware of when your behaviour is negatively impacting those around you.

Those with personality disorders often experience the added challenge of living with a disorder that is stigmatised and misunderstood, sometimes even by professionals. This just adds to the isolation, and may mean accessing necessary professional support is difficult or limited.

6. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a mental health condition caused by trauma. After any traumatic experience, you may replay the events over and over, or feel disconnected or numb. This is normal and usually fades as time goes on. When symptoms do not go away, this could mean you have PTSD.

What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Flashbacks, (where you feel like you’re physically or emotionally re-living the trauma)
  • Nightmares
  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Feeling on edge / hyper aware (hypervigilant)
  • Struggling to sleep
  • Finding it hard to focus
  • Being easily scared or upset
  • Feeling numb or detached (this is called dissociation)
  • Being triggered’ (your nervous system activated into fight or flight) by certain things that remind you of the trauma, and possibly avoiding them
  • Bodily sensations such as pain, dizziness, nausea, pain or sweating

Note: it’s also possible to experience secondary trauma’, with PTSD-like symptoms, as a result of supporting someone close to you who has experienced trauma. This can be common in care-based jobs such as social work, healthcare or therapeutic roles, jobs that offer pastoral or emotional-support, and when someone who you’re close to, like a family member or friend, has experienced trauma.

What impact can PTSD have on someone?

If you’ve experienced trauma or have PTSD, you may struggle to do day-to-day tasks, work or maintain relationships. It might be hard to trust people, or you may experience feelings of guilt, shame or blame. These can lead to behaviours such as isolating yourself, misusing substances or engaging in reckless behaviours.

PTSD might also affect your memory, your focus, and your ability to cope when other challenges arise in your life. People can also find it hard to relax or enjoy down time’ (or avoid it altogether).

What mental health support is available in the UK?

The Devon Partnership NHS Trust says that up to one in four people will need to seek professional help for their mental health at some point in their lives. Treatment options might include:

Self help and non-statutory services

This includes finding information on the internet (there is a large range of literature available relating to mental health online). Many charities and organisations also offer help and support for people with mental health problems, and some NHS services offer signposting to self-help options which may offer advice on managing stress, coping mechanisms, self-care practices and general tips for coping with mental health conditions.


Prescribed medication may help to improve symptoms of some mental health conditions. Medication effectiveness can vary, and may cause some side effects which require careful monitoring.

Psychological (talking) therapies

There is a range of talking therapies’ that people may attend on their own or with their partner or families. Psychological therapy often involves talking about one’s life and the challenges and difficulties they are feeling. Common types of therapy offered include Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, which focuses on current thoughts, behaviours and emotions, or counselling/​talking therapies such as Psychotherapy (which usually involves looking at the root cause or going deeper into a person’s experiences throughout life).

Specialist services (secondary care)

A GP may refer someone with a severe or complex mental health issue to a specialist or secondary care’ service often called a Community Mental Health Team (CMHT). Support may be provided through a team of Social Workers, Occupational Therapists, Community Psychiatric Nurses and therapists, offering group or individual services tailored to that person’s needs.

Crisis services

If a person is in crisis’ and needs immediate care, there are different ways you can access crisis services, including:

  • Speaking to your local crisis team (if you’re already under a Community Mental Health Team)
  • If someone’s life is at risk, call 999 or go to A&E
  • Listening services run by charities such as Samaritans (see Crisis support’ for more organisations)
  • Requesting an emergency GP appointment
  • Accessing local day services or crisis houses’ in your area

How can I help someone who is struggling with their mental health?

The Samaritans website states that Once someone starts to share how they’re feeling, it’s important to listen’. This could mean not jumping to offer advice, not trying to identify what they’re going through with your own experiences and not trying to solve their problems. Simply just listening.

The Samaritans recommend the following active listening tips, based on the acronym SHUSH’:

  • Show you care: Use a soft, sincere, warm tone of voice. Slow down.
  • Have patience: Go at the pace of the person speaking.
  • Use open questions: Ask questions that require more than a yes’ or no’ answer. Who? When? How? Try not to use why?’ as this can come across as accusatory, or the person may not know why they feel the way they do.
  • Say it back: Recap what they’ve said, repeat it back to them. Clarify your understanding.
  • Have courage: You may need to ask difficult questions.

Helpful phrases to use

When someone opens up about their mental health, it can be difficult to navigate your own feelings and thoughts while making sure you respond with care and compassion. Here are some example phrases you can use to help guide your conversation.

  • Thank you for sharing.’
  • Are you safe right now?’
  • What you have shared is important.’
  • How do you feel now you have told me?’
  • What support do you have?’

Some unhelpful phrases, which you may want to avoid, could include:

  • I’m sure you will be fine.’
  • Things could be worse.’
  • Be strong / brave / courageous.’
  • I know how you feel.’

Letting someone know you’re struggling with your mental health be an extremely difficult. You could encourage the individual by reassuring them they have taken an important first step in talking to you, and say that it’s now important that they speak to someone else. You could suggest they: 

  • Contact a GP

  • Get signposting help through NHS 111

  • Refer themselves for free, non-urgent NHS talking therapy

Where can I get further help and support?

If you or someone needs help with your mental health, please first speak to your GP. Your GP will be able to advise on the best treatment.

General mental health resources and support:

Crisis support / listening services:

For parents:

Domestic abuse and violence:
Support for victims of crime:
LGBTQIA support

A final note to say…

Whether you find yourself struggling with your mental health this Mental Health Awareness Week, or you’re supporting someone you love, be encouraged. You don’t have to know it all, or always say or do the right thing. The important thing is we all keep on trying, as together, we’re raising awareness and bringing about more acceptance for those for whom life can sometimes be a little more difficult.