Mental health and mental illness

What Is Mental Health?

We all have mental health. Mental health is good when we can manage difficult or painful thoughts and feelings, and do things we care about or enjoy, and be kind to ourselves. Our mental health is caused by how we think, feel and behave AND it affects how we think, feel, and behave. Ways that mental health impacts on how we behave is in our coping behaviour, how we interact and form relationships with others, as well as our daily functioning.

Our mental health can vary and be dependent on a number of factors, which may include;

  • The number of demands and amount of stress we are under
  • Our physical health
  • Significant life events
  • How much sleep we get
  • Relationships with other people
  • How much support we have
  • The food we eat
  • Environmental, societal and cultural factors
  • How much we engage in the 6 ways to well-being 

What is a Mental health problem?

At any point in our lives we will experience anxiety, low mood, or other mental health problem. Most people are able to overcome this and it does not impact on their ability to live their lives. If it does have an impact and is getting in the way of their functioning, then it has become a problem.

The vast majority of mental health problems are caused by ruminating about the past, worrying about the future and getting stuck inside judgements of ourselves and other people. A mental health problem can affect that way people think, feel, behave, and interact with others. 

If this keeps getting worse and more areas of life become affected, then a mental health problem can become an illness, such as depression. 

Mental illness typically has more of an impact across many areas of an individual’s life than episodes of poor mental health which may be situation specific or time limited.

Anyone of any age, sex, race, ethnicity, background, religion, ability, appearance, culture, caste, education, economic status, spirituality, sexual orientation can experience mental illness.

How to have good mental health and wellbeing. 

It is important to practice the basics of wellbeing consistently. Young people may need help establishing routines that maintain wellbeing:

  • Having a routine; getting up and going to bed at similar times, even at weekends or during the holidays
  • Good sleep hygiene (click HERE to learn more about sleep hygiene)
  • Self-care - for example, eating and drinking regularly, having a healthy diet,
  • Engaging in hobbies and interests regularly, learning
  • Be active
  • Connecting with others
  • Being in the present moment
  • Contributing or giving to others
  • Making sure there is a balance of activities; academic work, social time and rest as these are all equally important
  • Having limits as to how much they use technology, social media and online gaming

Psychological skills for maintaining good mental health

  • Learn to notice and observe thoughts as they show up
  • Accept that your mind is doing its' job of offering thoughts, all the time, some will be difficult and painful, some will be pleasant and lots will be neutral
  • For the difficult thoughts, those that create a strong feeling, be curious and ask 'Is this thought helpful to me? if I do or believe what my mind suggests, will it take me closer to what I care about and my values or further away?' 
  • You get to choose how you respond
  • If you engage with particular thoughts your mind will think you like them and will give you more of those kinds of thoughts
  • To learn more ways 'unhooking' from unhelpful thoughts clink in the 'wellbeing in action' link at the bottom of the page

How adult caregivers can support a young person struggling with their mental health:

Top Tips

  • Tip 1

    Ensure you have support for yourself; ask for help or let someone know if you are struggling either with your own emotional and mental health or if you are struggling with supporting a young person.

  • Tip 2

    Role model that you are human too; normalise and validate that we all have thoughts and feelings and can experience difficulties and struggles with our emotional and mental health.

  • Tip 3

    Share information; joined up working between adult caregivers (e.g., home and education) ensures consistency and containment for young people.

  • Tip 4

    Be calm, consistent , clear and boundaried, as well as kind and compassionate.

  • Tip 5

    Remember that your verbal and nonverbal communication and responses will have an impact on how a young person thinks, feels and behaves.

  • Tip 6

    Work with a young person to help them better understand , express and communicate how they are thinking and feeling.

General CAMHS Referral Guidance

 What we do, what we don’t do and what you can do if you are worried about your child

Below is a general guide to help you decide what may be helpful for your child.


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