Understanding Mental Health

An introduction to mental health

About mental health

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. 

Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community. (Source: Mind, 2012) 

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It affects how we think, feel and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.  

Over the course of our life, if and when we experience mental health problems, our thinking, mood and behaviour could be affected. Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including: 

  • Biological factors, such as genes or brain chemistry 
  • Life experiences and events, such as trauma, moving house, bereavement or relationship problems or other reasons such as loneliness, financial/gambling problems or drugs and alcohol 
  • Family history of mental health problems 

Mental wellbeing is our ability to maintain personal resilience when the pressure of daily life increases, both at work and at home, testing our ability to perform and thrive. 

Possible signs and symptoms of mental ill health in the workplace 

  • Decreased productivity 
  • Morale problems 
  • Lack of co-operation 
  • Safety problems 
  • Absenteeism 
  • Frequent complaints of being tired all the time 
  • Complaints of unexplained aches and pains 
  • Alcohol and/or other drug misuse 

Understanding the terms 

A mental illness or disorder is a clinically diagnosed illness that interferes significantly with a person's thinking, emotional or social wellbeing. It is diagnosed by a medical professional. Mental illnesses include:  

  • Mood disorders, such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder  
  • Psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia  
  • Eating disorders  
  • Personality disorders 

Mixed anxiety & depression is the most common mental disorders in the UK, with 7.8% of people meeting criteria for diagnosis (NICE 2011) 

From healthy to unwell - knowing the signs

As with physical health, we all have a scale on how we are feeling mentally and in return how we think, feel, and act. 

Having an insight into the healthy to unwell scale below could enable you to make a more informed judgement regarding your own mental health and that of others. 

Awareness of the signs which could indicate a mental health problem not only helps when trying to understand why someone isn’t quite ‘themselves’, it’s a good starting point to having a conversation about how someone is feeling. 


  • Regular and usual functioning 
  • Regular mood fluctuations 
  • Takes things in stride 
  • Consistent performance 
  • Normal sleep patterns 
  • Physically and socially active 
  • Usual self-confidence 


  • Significant functional impairment 
  • Anger, anxiety 
  • Lingering sadness, tearfulness, hopelessness, worthlessness 
  • Preoccupation 
  • Decreased performance 
  • Significantly disturbed sleep 
  • Avoidance of social situations 


  • Clinical disorder 
  • Persistent functional impairment 
  • Significant difficulty with emotions, thinking, high level of anxiety, panic attacks 
  • Depressed mood, feeling overwhelmed 
  • Constant fatigue 
  • Detached from reality and significant disturbances in thinking, suicidal thoughts/intent 

Source: Mind 

If you’re struggling with your mental health, it’s important you seek some help from your GP. If it’s affecting your ability to work, speak to your manager to see if a referral to Occupational Health is appropriate. You can contact our EAP for free and confidential support 24/7, 365 days a year. 

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