Good mental health means being able to think, feel and react in ways that allow you to live your live in the way that you want to. If you experience a period of poor mental health, you might find the ways that you are frequently thinking, feeling or reacting become difficult, or even impossible, to cope with.
Many factors contribute to mental health problems, including biological factors such as our genes or brain chemistry, life experiences and our family history of mental health problems. Mental health problems affect around one in four people in any given year. They range from common problems, such as depression and anxiety, to rarer problems such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
What's the connection between mental wellbeing and mental health problems?
Short periods of low mental wellbeing, such as occasionally feeling low, stressed or anxious are a normal part of everyday life. However, if you experience low mental wellbeing over a long period of time, you are more likely to develop a mental health problem.
If you have an existing mental health problem, you could be more likely experience periods of low mental wellbeing, although you may also have periods of good mental wellbeing too.
Here we explore a number of common mental health problems but whatever your difficulty, help and support is available. If you are experiencing symptoms of mental ill health, you should make an appointment with your doctor, who will be able to talk you through a range of options. There is also support available at Imperial and through other external services.
Mental health conditions
Depression is more than just feeling sad or having a low mood for a short period of time. It’s an illness that can affect your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. The symptoms of depression can vary from person to person and can range from mild to severe. They might include feeling sad, empty, worthless and tearful, or having a “brain fog” that affects focus and concentration. Depression can affect your sleeping patterns, leave you constantly tired and it can also have an impact on your appetite. Some people, but not all, will experience thoughts of suicide and ending their own life, which can be really frightening.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s important that you don’t ignore them. Talk to someone you trust – a friend, family member, Personal Tutor, Chaplain or Counsellor. Make an appointment with your doctor or one of Imperial’s Student Counsellors to talk through your options.
You can explore some of the resources below for more information about depression and further sources of support.
Self-harm is a term used when a person intentionally hurts or injures themselves as a way of coping with or expressing overwhelming emotional difficulties. It is a sign of distress and may also be connected to a person’s mental ill health. After self-harming, a person may feel a short-term sense of release, but the cause of their distress is unlikely to have gone away.
If you are self-harming and you would like help to stop injuring yourself, you can talk to your doctor. You can also meet with one of Imperial’s Student Counsellors, who can help you explore the emotional distress attached to the behaviours. This can be useful in considering and developing coping strategies that are more constructive.
If you self-harm, it is also important that you know how to look after your injuries and that you have access to the first aid equipment you need. Lifesigns has information on first aid for self-harm and you may want to explore some of the additional resources found in the section below.
Mental health conditions 2
Anxiety is a common difficulty that many people experience. Some people might feel anxious all the time, whereas others may experience anxiety about something specific like an exam or public speaking. The symptoms of anxiety differ from person to person and can include physical, emotional and behavioural symptoms. These might include feeling sick, like you have “butterflies” in your stomach, a sense of dread, or feeling overwhelmed by every-day tasks. Physical symptoms might include an increased heart rate, feeling hot and sweaty, shaking or headaches. You can make an appointment with your doctor or one of Imperial’s Student Counsellors to talk through your options and find out more about the things you can to do help manage your anxiety.
Eating disorders are complex and serious illnesses that can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. They involve disordered eating behaviours, which might mean a person limits the amount of food they eat, or conversely eats large quantities of food at once (bingeing). Someone with an eating disorder may also take steps to eliminate the food they have eaten by purging, fasting, misusing laxatives or exercising excessively.
Eating disorders can be a way of coping with feelings or situations that are making the person unhappy, angry, depressed, stressed, or anxious. They are not the fault of the person suffering - no one chooses to have an eating disorder.
Eating disorders can cause serious harm but it’s important to remember that they are treatable. The sooner that someone with an eating disorder accesses treatment, the more likely they are to make a full recovery.
If you are having problems with your eating, or find that difficult feelings or situations cause you to change your eating habits or feel differently about food, it is important that you seek help from your doctor as soon as possible. Taking the first steps towards getting help can feel incredibly difficult but Beat - the UK’s leading eating disorder charity – has some really useful advice about how you might tell someone that you have an eating disorder and what you can expect when you visit your doctor for the first time.
Where can I get help and support?
If you are experiencing symptoms of mental ill health, or if you have already been diagnosed with a mental health problem, there are a number of professional services at Imperial where you can access confidential, non-judgemental help and support.
- Imperial College Health Centre/your doctor
- Counselling and Mental Health Advice Service
- Disability Advisory Service
If you would prefer to talk to someone outside of Imperial, you can access the following services for information and support:
- Beat Studentline - for support with eating disorders. Call 0808 801 811
- Nightline - a confidential and anonymous listening service, available 18:00 – 08:00 every day during term time. Call +44 (0)20 7631 0101 to talk to someone
- NHS Moodzone - self-assessment tools for stress, anxiety and depression
- The Samaritans - a 24 hour helpline, available 365 days a year, offering support to anyone in emotional distress or thinking about suicide. Call 116 123 or email email@example.com
- Shout crisis text line - a free 24 hour text service for anyone in crisis, if you’re struggling to cope and need immediate help. Text 85258 for help
I'm in crisis
If you need immediate help to stay safe – especially if you think you might act on suicidal thoughts, or you've harmed yourself and need urgent medical attention dial 999 or go to your nearest Accident and Emergency Department.
There are a number of organisations who can support you if you are experiencing a mental health crisis:
- Maytree – call +44 (0)20 7263 7070 to arrange a short-term stay in a safe environment
- The Samaritans – call 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for help
- Shout crisis text line – text 85258 for help
- Papyrus Hopeline – call +44 (0)80 0068 4141, text +44 (0)77 8620 9697 or email email@example.com for support and advice