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What does having a mental health problem feel like?

It is understandable that many people who have a relative or close friend with mental health problems may ask this question so they can better understand and empathise with their loved one. Unfortunately, there is no straightforward answer to this question as mental health problems affect people in different ways. Factors such as what the illness is, the severity of the symptoms and the social support around a person all impact how a person feels. It can also be extremely difficult for a person to portray the way they are feeling to somebody who has not experienced their disorder. Whilst this is far from an all-inclusive list, on this page we will discuss some common themes we often hear when it comes to what mental health feels like.

A feeling of numbness is often described by people who are suffering from mental health problems. This feeling can occur prior to medication as a result of an illness, for instance depression, but can also be the result of certain treatment programmes. In this situation numbness is not physical but instead refers to an emotional numbness. This means that a person tends to feel emotionally disconnected to a situation. For instance in a situation where you may presume they would be happy the person will unfortunately feel no emotion. This lack of emotion can also affect a person’s future outlook, making a person feel hopeless about what the future holds. Unsurprisingly this feeling of numbness is something people wish to avoid and can be a factor in whether a person adheres to medications that cause a reduced emotional reaction. This feeling of hopelessness also plays into another common theme that occurs when discussing how mental illness feels; low mood. People with a mental health problem will often feel low and unable to enjoy life. Whilst sometimes this may reach clinical levels of depression, in other cases we refer to this as low mood. By this we mean that in everyday life a person’s general outlook on life is negative and they often feel down in situations that may not have previously affected them in this way. Whilst it is normal to have a low mood occasionally in day to day life, those with a mental health problem are likely to experience this more frequently than others. As this is something that occurs to people regularly in the general population it may be the easiest feeling for people to understand and empathise with.

Having a mental health problem can unfortunately be a very stressful experience and can cause people to feel like they are carrying a lot on their shoulders; which is often a phrase we hear from sufferers. Not only are people having to deal with the symptoms of their disorder, but they are also having to deal with its effect on their lives and the lives around them. This can make people feel that they are carrying a lot of responsibility through all aspects of life, especially when they blame themselves for the impacts their disorder has on others. Understandably this can be very tiring and can also produce a negative outlook on the future when a person feels this weight will not be lifted. This heavy weight on a person’s shoulders is likely why many sufferers feel like they are living in a state of impending doom, in which something bad is always going to happen. This thought pattern then causes an increased level of anxiety and stress. Understandably, living in a state of impending doom is unlikely to make people inclined to do many activities as they feel this would be a waste of time as things will ultimately result in doom. This can lead people to avoid new people and new experiences.

Whilst some disorders may cause a person to become more focused on one thought process, unfortunately often negative, other disorders can cause a series of racing thoughts. In this instance a person may be thinking about multiple things at once and this can cause behaviours to be erratic and conversations to become confusing. The feeling of racing thoughts may also be tiring and confusing for the sufferer who will find it hard to focus on a single task at a time, which in time will also lead to avoidance of these tasks. Racing thoughts can also cause negative thoughts to enter the mind quickly and without warning which can be a very distressing experience for the sufferer.

Whilst these are only some of the feelings that people with mental health problems experience, it is already easy to see how living with a mental health condition can greatly impact everyday thought and emotion. We can also see why sufferers understand the need to explain how they think and feel. Because it can be difficult for others to empathise with somebody without knowing what they are going through. These feelings and complications contribute to many sufferers pulling away from people that they know and becoming isolated; which is a theme throughout this website. Isolation is arguably the most common feeling among those with mental health problems. Feeling different and feeling that nobody can understand what you are going through, during an already stressful and confusing time, must be greatly frustrating and saddening. People then feel alone and isolated, even if they are not physically isolated, which contributes further to symptoms of mental health problems. It is important to try to empathise and understand how a person is feeling to show them that they are not alone and they do have people who care about them and want to help. Whilst it may feel difficult at the time, listening and trying to understand how a sufferer feels can greatly benefit their recovery process.

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