What is Mental Health

The population estimate for Surrey is 1.1million with 681,000 adults of working age. More than 80,000 people of working age, in the County, have mental health needs. Out of Guildford, Waverley and Woking’s 214,900 population of 18-64 year olds, it is estimated that 19,242 people suffer mixed depression and anxiety. Some people do recover, they respond well to treatment and medication without too much damage to their emotional, social and working life. Oakleaf exists to help people who are less fortunate and find their road to recovery more difficult to achieve. Finding and keeping a job is an important aspect of the recovery process and ensuring the right support is provided is vital.

Mental health problems can present in a wide variety of ways, depending upon the individual and circumstances. It is difficult to define what is ‘normal’, other than to use an individual’s usual behaviour as a point of comparison. Changes in people’s mood and personality can provide important indicators as to how they are feeling. Unusual mood swings or social withdrawal might, for example, provide some indication that the person is experiencing some degree of emotional distress.The information below describes the differing types of mental illness and provides links to other sources of information.


Anxiety can be described as an overwhelming feeling of discomfort or unease. At the same time as feeling anxious people may also experience physical changes such as sweating, a racing heart, stomach cramps, intestinal upsets, palpitations or rapid breathing.


Bi-polar affective disorder, also known as manic depression is a serious mental health problem involving extreme swings of mood (highs – mania and lows – depression). Someone experiencing mania may not recognise it is happening. Incoherent, rapid or chaotic thinking or being easily distracted are common features of an episode of mania.

Other symptoms may include paranoia and auditory or visual hallucinations. Grandiose delusions or ideas can occur where a sense of identity and self has been distorted by the illness.

Men and women, of any age from adolescence onwards and from any social or ethnic background, can develop bi-polar disorder. It often first occurs when work, study, family or emotional pressures are at their greatest. In women it can also be triggered by childbirth or during the menopause. The illness is episodic and often does not conform to a strict pattern. It is possible to remain well for long periods without experiencing another bi-polar episode.


Someone who is experiencing hypomania may seem very self-confident and euphoric but may react with sudden anger, impatience or become irritable, sometimes for the slightest reason. They may have more ideas than usual, be unusually busy, work too much or be very creative, but unable to focus on anything for very long or switch off and relax. They may become more reckless than usual, which might mean errors of judgement at work or in relationships, or be more talkative or challenging with people.


Deliberate self-harm is the intent of an individual to cause physical injury to themselves. The usual reason for self-harm seems to be the need to seek relief from unbearable emotional distress. Many people who self-harm have signs of other psychiatric disorders such as depression or personality disorder.


Depression describes a range of moods which affect an individual’s ability to cope with everyday living. It is more than being ‘moody’; it saps energy and self-esteem. Depression can affect anyone regardless of sex, age, class, race or background. Most people who have a bi-polar diagnosis will experience a severe depression at some time. For some people depression will be more likely to occur in the winter months. Symptoms commonly experienced include: a feeling of emptiness, worthlessness, loss of energy and motivation, pessimism and negativity about most things. Thoughts of death and suicide can be common but may be hard to discuss.


Eating disorders – either eating too much or too little – occur when people use food as a way of dealing with personal difficulties. They are often linked to gaining a perception of, and taking control, when much of the individuals world feels out of control.  Research has shown that some people are genetically susceptible to developing an eating disorder which is then triggered by external life events, often as a result of personal or family trauma in childhood such as physical and or sexual abuse. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and compulsive over-eating are the main eating disorders.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder which creates a compulsion to carry out physical habitual rituals or actions. People who have this disorder often suffer from acute anxiety and obsessive thought patterns. They may believe that their anxiety can only be relieved by performing the same tasks or rituals over and over again.


When someone is described as having a ‘personality disorder’ the term implies that their personal characteristics cause regular and long-term problems in the way the individual copes with life and interacts with other people. The causes are not fully understood but one of the primary factors involved seems to be experiences in early childhood such as when a child is consistently deprived of affection or bullied.


Traumatic events can often trigger strong emotional or physical reactions even after the event has passed. It is quite common and perfectly normal for a person to experience stress reactions when they have passed through a horrible ordeal. Any resultant difficulties may not present themselves for a number of years. Professional help should be sought when symptoms persist.


Schizophrenia is not, as many people believe, a split personality. When someone becomes unwell, they are likely to show drastic changes in their behaviour. They may be upset, anxious, confused and suspicious of other people. They may be reluctant to believe they need help. Doctors will look for various ‘positive’ symptoms (strange thinking, hallucinations and delusions) and ‘negative’ symptoms (apathy, emotional flatness, inability to concentrate, wanting to avoid people or to be protected).


The term psychosis is used to indicate certain characteristics of a psychiatric illness. A doctor may use the term to describe someone who can’t distinguish their own intense thoughts, ideas, perceptions and imaginings from reality. Forms of psychotic behaviour include: hallucinations; delusions; paranoia; mania and catatonia.


SAD is characterised by repeated bouts of depression prompted by a lack of sunlight in the dark months of winter. Sunlight entering the eye acts as a stimulus for nerve impulses to the part of the brain which controls mood, appetite, sleep, sex drive and temperature. Less light entering the eye is believed to affect the functioning of activity in this area of the brain. An estimated 1 in 100 of the British population suffers from SAD.