Can you prevent mental health issues? Can men get postnatal depression? Don't rely on Doctor Google - we asked the experts the most commonly searched questions to get the facts once and for all

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Mental health has never been such a hot topic of conversation, with the stigma slowly, steadily reducing as more and more of us realise it really is good to talk. But what if you’re not ready to talk yet? With access to a world wide web of answers in our pockets at all times, it’s no wonder we often turn to Google to ask for help or to find out more about what we’re feeling behind closed doors.

We’re not knocking it. With 1 in 4 of us in the UK said to be experiencing mental health  issues each year according to the latest figures from Mind , reaching out - be it to a friend or a search engine - is a positive step. However, while we’re making strides in sharing, there’s no guarantee the information you’re getting from those late night Google searches is accurate, and with thousands of results it can be hard to know where to begin.

That’s why we’ve asked the experts. Read on as Thomas Jones, Mental Health Nurse Adviser at Bupa , answers 10 of the top search queries around mental health...

Are mental health and emotional health the same?

Mental health and emotional health are separate concepts. Our mental health comprises a range of different elements – emotional health falls within those. The latter is an indicator of how we cope with controlling our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Being emotionally healthy may not always equate to being happy, but simply being aware of and owning our feelings, which lets us properly process any negative emotions. Being able to do this doesn’t always come naturally – it is something which can be learned and developed over time.

Can mental health issues be cured?

Statistics show that anyone experiencing mental illness is more likely to experience it again than someone who has never gone through it. People can go through long spells free of symptoms but these always have the potential to return. It all depends on what stressors are occurring in their life. However, the positive side is that talking therapies  can and do teach individuals the skills and coping strategies to lessen the risk of relapse.

Can mental health issues be prevented?

There is a lot that can be gained from having a healthy  lifestyle. Diet, exercise, working on reducing stress , sleeping well and working in a fulfilling occupation can all help towards keeping us mentally well. Most mental health conditions are diagnosed earlier on in life, as children or teenagers.

Why is depression more common in females?

Common mental health problems, including depression , are diagnosed in a fifth of women, whereas the same occurs for one in eight men. Several factors could contribute to this, such as female mental health being less of a taboo. With a lower stigma around such issues, women may feel more encouraged to get the help they need. There are also factors such as gender inequality and hormonal elements, such as premenstrual syndrome and pregnancy ; plus a proven higher tendency to overthink problems in women, which can inevitably lead to negative thoughts.

Can mental health stop you from working?

The pressures of daily life can be most strongly felt at work. Role expectations and the pressure of performing can play a huge part in this. The vicious cycle is then that depression and anxiety  can negatively affect concentration and self-confidence. This can lead to difficulty with coping with even the simplest of tasks. Mental health conditions are shown to contribute to 12.7% of all UK sick days, and 1 in 6.8 people are said to have experienced mental health issues at work .

Are mental health issues on the rise?

They do seem to be more common now. Research shows that mental health issues have been steadily increasing since the early nineties or earlier. This is partly due to more people seeking help, with an improved awareness of and education around mental health today. It is understood that reporting of these issues by women has contributed largely to the increase.

Are mental health and physical health related?

It is estimated by The King’s Fund and Centre for Mental Health that poor mental health and wellbeing has been a factor in the 12-18% NHS expenditure on treating and managing long-term conditions. Those who have a mental illness have double the usual risk of a fatal coronary heart  disease, while also having four times as high a chance of a fatal respiratory disease. They are also statistically more likely to be overweight or obese. It works both ways because at the same time, those who have a long-term physical health condition have a higher chance of experiencing mental health issues.

Are mental health conditions genetic?

Mental health conditions can arise from any number of factors related to both our genes and environment. While it hasn’t been ascertained which particular genes can cause mental health conditions, certain genetic markers can increase the likelihood of developing them. However, there have been studies into twins with the same genes which have shown that one twin can experience mental health conditions while the other is unaffected.

Are mental health services inherently feminised?

Due to predetermined societal ideas of gender expectations, men can feel pressured to keep quiet about mental health issues and deem services to exist mainly for women. Toxic masculinity is often referred to around discussion of gender stereotypes, due to the old-fashioned belief that men are expected to be ‘strong and silent’. This stigma can be lethal when combined with low self-esteem brought on by mental health issues. For that reason, mental health services are tragically underused by men in comparison with women, who have less judgement around seeking help for their issues. The statistics around suicide reflect this, as suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35.

Has there been a rise in postnatal depression among men?

Postnatal depression can be experienced by fathers and partners too, a fact recently confirmed by the NHS as they updated their information page to reflect this. They also offer counselling services for men suffering from postpartum depression. It has been found that almost 10% of fathers experience depression sometime after their child is born. Whether this percentage is higher than previous years is undetermined, as diagnosis of the condition has in the past only occurred in women. It is hoped that the recent medical acknowledgment will mean that more new fathers suffering mental health conditions will come forward, which may result in figures continuing to increase.

If you're struggling with mental health issues or have more questions, visit the  Mind  website for more information or talk to the Samaritans on 116 123

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