Mental health

Page last reviewed: 13/07/2011

Mental health is about how we think, feel and behave. It is estimated that in four people has a mental health problem at some point, which can affect their daily life, relationships or physical health.

Mental health problems can affect anyone. Without support and treatment, mental health problems can have a serious effect on the individual and those around them.

Every year in Ireland, about 20,000 people are admitted to psychiatric hospitals and about 500 people commit suicide.

Mental health disorders

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

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

There is no single cause of mental health problems and the reasons 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

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

Some mental health problems are more common in certain people. For example, women are more likely than men to have anxiety disorders and depression. Drug and alcohol addictions are more common in men, and men are also more likely to commit suicide.

Mental health problems can develop as a result of 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 treatments, including medication, counsellingpsychotherapy and self help.

It is important that people with mental illnesses are told about the options available so they can decide which treatment suits them best.

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

Many support groups and charities offer advice, confidential counselling and information about the types of treatment available and where to get help.


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.

Content provided by NHS Choices and adapted for Ireland by the Health A-Z.

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