Introduction to mental health

Our mental health determines how we think, feel and act. Good mental health is when you feel positive about yourself and cope well with the everyday pressures. If you experience issues dealing with everyday problems, it could be a sign of a mental health problem and should be addressed immediately.

One in five

One in five people in Northern Ireland will experience potential mental health problems.

Anyone can suffer from mental health problems. While certain individuals or groups are more vulnerable, no one is immune to poor mental health.

People with mental health problems often face stigma, which can prevent them from seeking help and hinder their recovery.

Preserving good mental health

There are five simple steps that can help you maintain and improve your wellbeing.  Try to build these into your daily life – think of them as your ‘five a day’ for wellbeing:

  • connect – spend time developing your relationships with your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours
  • be active – you don’t have to go to the gym, but taking part in physical activity such as walking or playing football will help you stay mentally healthy
  • keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of confidence and achievement
  • take notice – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts, feelings and body
  • give to others – acts of kindness can improve your own mood and have a positive impact on your own mental health


Mental health conditions

There is a range of mental health conditions a person can suffer from, including:


Early warning signs

There are some early warning signs that you should be aware of that can suggest something may be harming your mental health. These can be one or a number of the following:

  • mood swings or constantly feeling low
  • lack of care for personal appearance or personal responsibilities
  • increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • thinking life is not worth living
  • losing interest in things you used to enjoy
  • withdrawing from social activities and spending less time with friends and family
  • disturbed sleep, either not getting enough or sleeping too much
  • eating less than normal or overeating, perhaps losing or gaining weight
  • feeling irritable, over-sensitive or aggressive
  • having difficulty concentrating or remembering things
  • experiencing recurring physical symptoms such as aches and pains or other unexplained illnesses
  • a drop in work performance
  • doing things that don’t make sense to others
  • hearing or seeing things that no one else can hear or see

If you can relate to any of these warning signs, it’s important that you seek help. Talk to a friend or a family member and speak to your GP about support services available to you.

Alcohol and drugs

Many people drink alcohol without experiencing any problems. Enjoying a couple of drinks can be part of a normal social life or help some people relax. For others, however, alcohol is associated with a range of mental health problems, including depression.

Alcohol has also been linked to suicide. According to the Mental Health Foundation:

  • 65 per cent of suicides have been linked to drinking too much alcohol
  • 70 per cent  of men who kill themselves have consumed alcohol before doing so
  • almost a third of suicides among young people happen while the person is intoxicated

Using illegal drugs has also been linked to mental health problems. For some people, taking drugs can lead to long-term mental health problems. Others may already be experiencing mental health problems and use drugs to manage their condition.

Long term use of drugs including cannabis and ecstasy has been linked to conditions such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. Cannabis also affects how your brain works, so regular use can make concentration and learning difficult.

Users can also develop a physical or psychological dependence, becoming addicted.

Recovering from mental health problems

People can and do recover from mental health problems. Recovery can be a process, rather than a particular outcome.

The recovery process:

  • does not always mean getting back to where you were before
  • will have ups and downs
  • requires commitment from you and support from your family and friends
  • can allow you to lead a normal life
  • will involve finding your own ways of coping with life’s challenges

For many people, recovery is about staying in control of their life, despite experiencing mental health problems.

Certain factors which can help in a successful recovery include:

  • good relationships – it is vital to have support from family and friends
  • self-direction – a person in recovery needs to decide their own direction and goals
  • having a positive living/working/education environment that helps in recovery
  • financial security
  • responsibility – a person in recovery needs to develop their own self-care skills

Recovery is a unique and individual process and, while there may be common themes and experiences, each person’s recovery will be unique.

Recovery colleges

Recovery Colleges offer a range of courses which are open to all members of the public, over the age of 16, in each of the five Health and Social Care Trusts in Northern Ireland. 

Courses are designed and delivered by mental health specialists, carers and experts.

Recovery Colleges are open to:

  • families
  • friends
  • carers
  • service users
  • staff
  • those with an interest in wellbeing and mental health


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