Introduction

Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. One in four people in the UK has a mental health problem at some point, which can affect their daily life, relationships or physical health. One or two in every 100 people will experience a more severe mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Mental health problems can affect anyone. Without support and treatment, mental health problems can have a serious affect on the individual and those around them. However, the majority of people who experience mental health problems can get over them, or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on.

Mental health disorders

Mental health disorders take many different forms and affect people in different ways. Schizophrenia, depression and personality disorders are all types of mental health problem.

In the past, mental health symptoms have in the main been divided into groups. They are classed as either ‘neurotic’ or ‘psychotic’ symptoms. ‘Neurotic’ refers to those symptoms which can be regarded as severe forms of ‘normal’ emotional experiences such as depression, anxiety or panic. 'Neuroses’ are now more often called ‘common mental health problems.’

'Psychotic’ symptoms, which are less common, are those that interfere with a person’s perception of reality. This may include the person having hallucinations. That is they see, hear, smell or feel things that no one else can.

There is no single cause of mental health problems and the reasons why they develop are complex.

Who is affected

Mental health problems are more common in certain groups, such as:

  • people with poor living conditions,
  • people from ethnic minority groups,
  • disabled people
  • homeless people
  • offenders

Diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia generally develop in old age, whereas eating disorders are more common in young people.

Sometimes, people with mental health problems are discriminated against. This can lead to social problems such as homelessness, and may make the mental health problem worse.

Mental health problems can also develop from difficult life events, such as moving house, losing your job or the death of someone close to you. Drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time and using illegal drugs can contribute to mental health problems, particularly in people who are already vulnerable.

Treatment and support

People with mental health problems need help and support to enable them to cope with their illness. There are many treatment options, including medication, counselling, psychotherapy and self help.

It is important that people with mental illnesses are told about the options available so they can make a decision about what treatment suits them best.

Another important step in the recovery process is for the person to accept they are ill and to want to get better. This can take time, and it is important for family and friends to be supportive.

Please see our selected links section for links to pages on this website that deal with different mental health conditions and treatments.

Many support groups and charities offer advice, confidential counselling and information about the types of treatment available and where to get help. Please use our local services search for details of these.

Carers

If you look after someone who is ill or disabled, your mental health may be affected. An official report on the mental health of carers found that more than half of all carers reported symptoms of mental health issues, such as stress or depression. This is higher than in the general population.

To find out about services that could help you cope with caring for someone, visit Carers Wales.

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Q&A

Can I speak to a GP about someone else’s health?

It depends whether you have the person’s consent (permission).

If you have consent

Your friend or relative can give their GP permission, either verbally or in writing, to discuss their health with you. If you have consent, you can speak to your friend or relative’s GP about their health.

If you don’t have consent 

You can raise concerns about your friend or relative’s health with their GP without their consent, but because of patient confidentiality, the GP won’t be able to discuss any details.

A GP can only intervene if a friend or relative needs treatment under the Mental Health Act (1983). This act allows some people with mental health problems to be compulsorily detained in a psychiatric hospital. The Mind website has more information on their page: The Mind Guide to the Mental Health Act 1983.
 
However, if you agree, the GP may be willing to tell your friend or relative that you’re concerned about them and may suggest including you in some of the discussions.

You can speak to your own GP about someone else’s health, but they won't be able to discuss a specific case. Although your GP could help you understand how to provide support, it may be quicker and easier to get information elsewhere.

Getting information and advice

If you’re concerned about a friend or relative’s health, there are many ways for you to get information and advice. For example, you can:

  • use the A-Z index to find information about hundreds of different health conditions
  • call NHS Direct Wales on 0845 4647 

You could talk to your friend or relative directly if you wish to discuss their condition or treatment. Tell them of your concerns about their health and offer help and support.

Sometimes it can be difficult for someone to see or admit they have a health problem, for example, if they have a drink or drug problem.

Medical records

Under the Data Protection Act (1998) a person’s medical records can be accessed by:

  • the person themselves
  • a parent or guardian for children under 16 - although in some cases the child may be entitled to decide if this information is passed on
  • a friend or relative if they have the person’s written permission
  • a friend or relative if they have power of attorney

Consent to treatment

In law, no one can give consent to treatment on behalf of another adult. Only the person receiving the treatment can give their permission for it to go ahead.

If a person’s condition means they’re unable to make a decision about their treatment; for example, if they have dementia, the healthcare professionals treating them must act in the person’s best interests.

See the A-Z for more information about consent to treatment.

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The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS Choices.
Last Updated: 15/04/2019 09:00:24