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Mental health conditions

Here you can find out more about some common mental health conditions, their causes, symptoms and treatment options.

Written by SANE in collaboration with mental health professionals and service users, this information aims to increase everyone’s understanding of mental illness and how these conditions can be treated.

You are welcome to print these information sheets for personal use. They are all PDFs under 500KB.

Please note that we are updating these mental health conditions.


Commonly understood to be a fear of open spaces or going outside, but in fact it is more complex. With agoraphobia the anxiety or fear appears to be associated with being in places or situations from which escape might be difficult or embarrassing (for example trying to get out of a crowded room or social situation), or in which help may not be available in the event of having a panic attack.


Anxiety is a common feeling – a natural reaction to certain situations and circumstances, characterised by a fear or apprehension of what might happen, or what the future might hold. For this reason, it is often associated with circumstances such as illness, unemployment, money worries, moving house, exams or job interviews.


This is an eating disorder and serious mental health condition. People who have anorexia try to keep their weight as low as possible by not eating enough food or exercising too much, or both. This can make them very ill because they start to starve.

Men and women of any age can get anorexia, but it’s most common in young women and typically starts in the mid-teens.

Bipolar disorder

People diagnosed with bipolar disorder tend to experience mood swings from periods of severe depression to periods of elation known as mania.

These periods can vary in length, as can the periods of stability in between these episodes. These mood swings are much more extreme than the day-to-day ups and downs most people experience.

Body dysmorphia    

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is defined as a preoccupation with a perceived defect in one’s appearance. For example, if a slight defect is present (which others hardly notice) it is regarded as markedly excessive.

The term dysmorphophobia is also used by psychiatrists. To warrant a diagnosis the individual’s preoccupation must be causing significant distress or handicap in their social or occupational life.


This eating disorder is characterised by binge eating (eating more than most people would do in a certain time period, often high calorie foods) and inappropriate compensating mechanisms, such as purging/vomiting, use of laxatives and extreme exercise to prevent weight gain.

In order for a diagnosis to be given an individual needs to have had recurrent episodes (at least twice a week for three months) of bingeing and compensating mechanisms. The onset of bulimia tends to be late adolescence to early adulthood.


While depression may be mild, moderate or severe, it is very different from just feeling low. It is something that is likely to interfere with daily life, with relationships, with one’s ability to work, to enjoy life and to experience oneself or others in an enjoyable or fulfilling way. It can last for long periods of time, with some fluctuation in the level and intensity of depression felt.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition related to anxiety that means affected individuals have a debilitating preoccupation with maintaining orderliness, perfectionism, and mental and interpersonal control. It may be helpful to distinguish between the two elements of OCD.

Personality disorders    

Personality disorder is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of mental health. As its name suggests, it is a disorder linked to personality and, because of this, for a long time, it was not recognised or acknowledged as a mental health diagnosis. For the same reason, personality disorders were considered to be untreatable, as they were not seen as an illness, but rather the result of an unbalanced personality.


Psychosis or ‘psychotic’ are widely misunderstood terms. Psychosis can be a symptom in a number of mental health conditions. It describes phenomena that other people don’t experience or share. This might include seeing or hearing things, or holding unusual beliefs. The effect of psychosis is to create a difference between the person with psychotic experiences from the rest of their family or community, as their reality does not coincide with other people’s reality.

Psychotic depression    

Psychotic depression occurs when people who have severe, clinical uni-polar depression (which may also be called ‘major depressive disorder’) experience the symptoms of psychosis. Symptoms include hallucinations and delusions. The delusions tend to be, very negative and self-blaming, and can make people feel even more anxious.


Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is regularly associated with events such as war or natural disasters. However, it is also associated with personal trauma such as violence, rape or abuse. Other events that may lead to the development of PTSD include mugging, robbery, military combat, being kidnapped or taken hostage, terrorist attack, torture, incarceration as a prisoner of war or in a concentration camp, being diagnosed with a life threatening illness, or a car accident.

At the time of the event, the person’s response is emotional: intense fear, helplessness or horror. (In children this may be experienced as disorganised or agitated behaviour).


Schizophrenia is a commonly misunderstood condition, partly because the word is inaccurately used in a wide variety of contexts.
Contrary to popular myth, schizophrenia has nothing to do with split personality. Schizophrenia is what is known as a psychotic illness. This is another inaccurately and overused term, and because of this tends to be associated with fear and apprehension


Self-harming is often a secretive form of behaviour; it can have many motivating factors for those who use it. It can also be both distressing and incomprehensible to those who do not have direct experience of it, and who may be concerned about the behaviour in those they care about. There can be fears, anxieties and misapprehensions on both sides.

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