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What is wellbeing?

Wellbeing is the emotional and spiritual resilience which enables us to enjoy life, and survive pain, disappointment, and sadness. It is a positive sense of belief in our own dignity and self-worth.

If a person’s wellbeing isn’t positive and resilient, then they could be at risk of developing mental health problems.

The term ‘mental health problems’ covers a wide range of conditions. This information aims to help you understand more about some of the most common ones.

Please note that this is a general guide. We are all individuals, and two people with the same diagnosis may experience very different signs, symptoms and behaviour.

Some common mental health problems


Stress is the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressure or other types of demand placed on them. If pressure is excessive and goes on for too long, it can lead to mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and can also increase the risk factors for coronary heart disease, such as smoking and unhealthy eating.

Common symptoms of stress include:

  • increased anxiety and irritability
  • impaired sleep and concentration
  • verbal or physical aggression
  • reduced attention span and impaired memory.


Anxiety is a normal response to stress or uncertainty, but problems arise if it becomes too great to handle and stops the individual coping with everyday life, including work. There are different types of anxiety.

Generalised anxiety is anxiety that affects a person all the time. Phobias lead to extreme fear of a particular object or place. In obsessive-compulsive disorder, certain words or ideas keep coming to mind, causing anxious feelings. For people with panic attacks, anxious feelings may come out of the blue.

Common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • agitation
  • sleep disturbance
  • difficulty concentrating
  • loss of appetite or excessive appetite
  • physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach disorders or palpitations
  • panic attacks.


Depression is one of the most common forms of mental health distress. Depression is used to describe a range of moods, from low spirits to a severe problem that interferes with everyday life. Depression is usually only a significant problem if it lasts for more than two weeks.

Common symptoms of depression include:

  • low, depressive mood with negative thoughts about self and others
  • numbness, emptiness and despondency
  • lack of interest in life and motivation to do things
  • difficulty concentrating
  • social withdrawal
  • lack of appetite, or comfort eating
  • sleep disturbance
  • increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs
  • feelings of guilt
  • self-neglect
  • anxiety
  • suicidal thoughts or thoughts of self-harm.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is a disorder that affects a person’s moods. These mood changes can be extreme and unpredictable. Most often there is a high mood period alternating with a low mood period, with a stable period in between. It is difficult to generalise about how the illness will affect someone. About one person in 100 is likely to develop bipolar disorder.

Common symptoms of bipolar disorder include:

  • elated mood with no obvious cause
  • periods of deep depression
  • lack of energy, or boundless energy and restlessness
  • rapid speech and disordered thoughts
  • little or no sleep, or waking early
  • reckless decision-making, or lack of inhibitions
  • in extreme cases, delusions or hallucinations.


Schizophrenia is a term used to describe a condition where thoughts, feelings, beliefs and experiences are severely disrupted.

First symptoms of schizophrenia tend to be experienced by men in their 20s and women in their 30s. Roughly a quarter of people diagnosed will recover completely, two-thirds will have multiple episodes and 10 to 15 per cent will experience more enduring problems. Many people with schizophrenia lead full and fulfilling lives that include having relationships, children, work and study.

Common symptoms of schizophrenia include:

  • strongly held beliefs which are out of keeping with the person’s background and usual way of thinking
  • hearing voices
  • paranoia
  • seeing, tasting, smelling or feeling things that are not there
  • believing that people, events or objects control thoughts and actions in a way that cannot be logically explained
  • confused or muddled thinking or speech
  • loss of feelings.

For more information

  • Workwise is an employment agency for people with experience of mental health issues. Their website has more information on common mental health problems.

Photo from Vicky Mack.