What are the most common mental health disorders?

Written by: Dr Morwenna Opie
Published: | Updated: 06/03/2019
Edited by: Cal Murphy

Mental health disorders are an ever-present problem in modern society – many people will experience anxiety, depression, stress, or one of many other conditions with their lifetimes. Traumatic experiences can rock our worlds to the extent that we can't quite make sense of them. Expert clinical psychologist Dr Morwenna Opie is here to explain the most common types of mental health disorder and what can be done about them.

The most common types of mental health difficulties

Mood or depressive disorders and anxiety are considered the ‘common cold and headache’ of mental health and are estimated to affect ¼ or more of us during our lifetime. In reality, few of us get through life unscathed by trauma – and the effects of this on our minds and bodies are sometimes overlooked.

What demarks a diagnosable clinical condition is the effect it has on our day-to-day ability to function. Many people harbour old wounds, and avoid and limit their lives to avoid triggering memories.

Unless we help our mind to allow these experiences to pop up in our consciousness when they choose to, without fearfully pushing them away, we run into difficulties and start avoiding activities and limiting our lives. Unless we find ways to incorporate these memories of abuse, difficulty, illness, let-down or trauma and let them exist and be seen as part of what makes us who we are, this seems to create tension, stress and possibly manifests as health difficulties.


What causes mental health disorders?

Our bodies are very driven to keep ourselves safe. It is just that many of these systems are primitive and don’t take account of the needs of modern life. When we were tribal creatures living in social groups and connected to the land it maybe made sense to keep us safe from predators, using fatigue, dissociation or loss of consciousness – but these are not very helpful on the commute to work, school run, or shopping trip.

Read more: Avoiding exhaustion and burnout

How to overcome mental health disorders

Thankfully these responses often can be overridden or gradually changed using a combination of the right treatment, with a professional’s support to talk through some of these situations, and being more in-tune with our bodies. We can train ourselves to be able to stay present during extreme discomfort or reliving past events, and through this and all aspects of life, we can become a good friend to ourselves. That's a really important part of living a really meaningful life where we are able to be guided not by our fear, but by what we really want to do and to achieve.

By Dr Morwenna Opie

Dr Morwenna Opie is an expert clinical health psychologist based at the Duchy Hospital in Truro, Cornwall. In this setting she has a specialty with syncope, PoTS and managing health-related anxieties, however she continues to provide support to patients with all manner of physical health conditions from many settings including rheumatology (e.g. RA, Sjogren’s, APS, Lupus, FM), neurology (migraine, unexplained symptoms) and pain and fertility services. Dr Opie is qualified in providing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, as well as mindfulness therapies which are proven to optimise mental health, and are highly effective for anxiety, depression and OCD, as well as associated difficulties including sleep issues, panic attacks, grief, adjustment, fatigue and relationship difficulties. Dr Opie recognises we can sometimes feel overwhelmed with advice and demands to change, our worlds can shrink and we can lose a sense of purpose and direction.  At these times it is critical to reconnect with our identity and values, define priorities, make plans, and regain hope and self-worth.

Dr Opie completed her undergraduate degree at Cambridge University where she won subject and college prizes. She obtained her PhD in clinical health and psychology at UCL and completed her studies in New Zealand where she specialised in anxiety, neurophysiology and clinical health psychology. Dr Opie is currently an honorary clinical psychologist at King's College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust in rheumatology, reflecting her commitment to integrating psychological health routinely into physical healthcare settings, and working collaboratively with healthcare specialists to ensure coordinated quality care.

Dr Opie's patient-centred approach in a clinical setting is mirrored in her research interests which include investigating and validating individual therapeutic and group interventions for complex physical health conditions. She is also committed to producing informative literature about health and treatment for patient use and advocating for psychological support in healthcare that is informed by a recognition that mind and body are inseparable. This patient-centric approach is visible in the relaxed, safe, warm and genuine relationships she forms with her patients, helping them step back into a full and rewarding life.

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