I’m a big believer in talking about stuff, particularly the stuff that traditionally we’ve been encouraged to keep to ourselves, like mental health concerns. Today I have an interview with Dr Mark Winwood, Director of Psychological Services, AXA PPP healthcare. (Find them on Twitter and Facebook.)
I hope you find it useful. Please do leave a comment and share your own experiences if you would like to.
How many people in the UK experience stress, anxiety or depression every year or at some point in their life?
Research has revealed that up to 5 million people suffer from anxiety disorders in the UK, and it was the second most prevalent mental illness reported amongst adults in 2014¹ – so we’re looking at a big problem here. It’s likely that you’ll know someone suffering from mental ill health at some point in your life. We know that one in four people experience a mental health problem in any year. Prevalence is different depending on gender – women are more likely than men (33% compared with 19%) to report ever having been diagnosed with a mental illness².
If people haven’t experienced mental ill health themselves, it can be difficult to understand, and you get a lot of ‘pull yourself together’ and ‘cheer up’ attitudes toward the illness. Is there any element of this that’s good advice? To what extent should we take responsibility for ‘pulling ourselves together’?
Taking responsibility for how you are feeling is a step in the right direction, but if you are experiencing , don’t trivialise it – seek professional help, or begin by talking about your feelings with someone you trust. It can be very difficult to explain mental ill health to those that haven’t experienced it; and this is part of the stigma we are trying to tackle.
What’s the first thing someone should do if they are worried that they are experiencing stress, anxiety or depression?
I would recommend they talk to a medical professional. If that seems too daunting, or too big a step; take it slowly. Do some research first and talk to someone you trust about how you are feeling. From there you can slowly build up to seeking expert advice.
How helpful is medication?
Medication can be helpful for some people – in some cases, anti-depressants can help those experiencing anxiety and depression. For individuals who have panic attacks beta blockers can be prescribed to help. Talking therapies are also sometimes recommended for mental health issues and can be very successful when combined with medication.
Are mental health issues like depression and anxiety genetic in any way? Or do we learn certain behaviours if we have grown up with them?
We do not know for sure what causes someone to experience mental ill health, but it could be linked to a variety of factors including our genetics, family history, lifestyle and life events. Going through a stressful life event such as a divorce, bereavement or redundancy or having money worries can trigger mental health issues, as well as more traumatic experiences such as being in a car crash or a fire. A life event trigger may more significantly impact those with a family/genetic predisposition.
What are the best things you can do, on a day to day basis, to keep yourself as well as possible?
There are a number of self-help things you could try to help keep yourself well. Relaxation techniques, practicing mindfulness, developing a good sleep routine, exercise and eating well could all help. has a wealth of resources in its online mental health centre that you could draw on.
What are the worst things you can do? What definitely doesn’t help?
It doesn’t help to keep it all inside. Talking to someone about how you are feeling is the first step to getting better. Also, be kind to yourself. Some days you will feel low but don’t beat yourself up about that; acknowledge that you may need a bit more time on that day to get things done.
Are there any particular resources online that could be useful? Any books you’d recommend?
Thankfully, there is increased focus and awareness of mental health and there are now lots of places where you can find useful resources. AXA PPP healthcare’s own website has a including a variety of information and resources. There are also a number of charities out there which can help, including and , both which offer helplines if you need to talk to someone.
What advice would you give to anybody who wants to support a friend, partner or family member who is struggling with stress, anxiety or depression? What are the best/worst things to say/do?
There are a number of things you could do:
- Don’t blame them. If you decide to support someone with anxiety or depression, make it clear that you don’t hold them responsible for how they are feeling.
- Tell them they are not alone. Reminding them that you love them and are there to support them can go a long way.
- Acknowledge that you may not understand how they are feeling. This is really important. Mental ill health is often trivialised; reassure them that though you may not fully understand, you are not there to judge them, simply to help.
- Work out positive changes together. There may be a trigger or cause to the mental health problems they’re experiencing. You may find that talking about it throws light on some bigger issues.
- Ask for help. Encourage them to visit their GP or a mental health professional for some professional guidance.
Do you have your own experience of living with a mental health issue or supporting someone else? I’d love for you to share your experiences if you would like to.
Image – KieferPix/shutterstock
¹ Journal of Psychopharmacology, The size, burden and cost of disorders of the brain in the UK, Sept 2013,