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Caring for adults
Caring for adults

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2 Types of mental health problems

Some mental health problems are common and many people with good mental health know what the problems feel like. It is estimated that one in four people will experience mental health problems at some point in their life, while at any one time one in six people will experience mental health problems. The majority of these people have depression or anxiety. Mental health problems are difficult to see; consequently they are not accepted as an illness in the same way as physical illness or disability.

In this section we focus on mental health problems that have an effect on people’s lives in one way or another. You will probably have heard of many of them.


Before you study types of mental health problems, we’d like you to reflect on any diagnoses that you have heard of or had experience of.

Activity 2

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Make a note of any mental health problems that you are aware of.

  • What is its/their name(s)?
  • What signs and symptoms might the mental health problem lead to?
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Some mental health problems are common and many of the signs and symptoms are a familiar experience to most people. Some of the symptoms, for example, are part of the ‘normal’ way that people react to changes in their circumstances; strong feelings of sadness and guilt during a bereavement is normal, but it is not so normal in the absence of a bereavement. Some mental health problems feature symptoms that are not part of the normal experience for most people; hearing voices and holding odd beliefs about other people are two examples.

You will now consider types of mental health problems as they are classified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). It is worth remembering that these are based on medical diagnoses and so are largely based on a biomedical model. When making a diagnosis professionals rely on a combination of signs and symptoms, as well as other information such as that gained from blood tests.

Signs are what another person can observe, whereas symptoms are what the individual experiences or feels. A mental health professional will try to observe for signs or ask another person known to the individual to talk about any signs they have observed, and seek information from the individual about their experience by questioning them during the mental health assessment.

Classifications of mental health problems and their common signs and symptoms are described next.