Emotional wellbeing and mental health

Just as we all have physical health, we all have mental health too. Mental health refers to our psychological or emotional health and wellbeing. It is about how we think, how we feel, how we  behave, how life affects us and how we cope with it, how we engage with others, and the choices we make.

When we are in ‘good’ mental health, we feel that we can cope well and respond positively to life, and we can be involved in relationships, activities and our environment and community. Our mental health is affected by our biology (our genes and how our body reacts to situations) and our life experiences (what we experience and how this affects us).

We can all probably recognise times when we feel ‘down’ or ‘stressed’. Sometimes there is a clear reason why we are feeling this way and, with time, these feelings pass. Mental health, and how we respond to events in our life, varies from person to person: some people cope and adjust positively, some find certain aspects of life challenging at certain times, and some find it hard to cope with and engage with many aspects of life.

Like physical health, an individual’s mental health can vary over time: moving between being able to cope sometimes to feeling unable to at other times. This may change as our life, perspectives and experiences change. This can be in the shorter or longer term: you may find that sometimes you can manage whatever life hands you, yet on other days even the ‘simplest’ things feel overwhelming. Or it might be that it depends on the situation, for example, being able to manage at work but experiencing difficulties in your personal life.

Some people experience few, if any, mental health problems. Some may have periods of mental ill-health which may be temporary or fluctuating, and others may have longer-term or persistent difficulties. Some people have mental health conditions that can be recognised and diagnosed. These conditions are usually not ‘passing’ feelings but are more long-lasting, more debilitating, and have an impact on the person’s day-to-day life. They can lead to feelings of isolation and, in severe situations, result in people self-harming or having suicidal thoughts.

“I think people are so focussed on the physical symptoms of cardiomyopathy that
they forget the emotional impact.”
Individual with cardiomyopathy

The impact of a mental health problem can be as important as a physical health condition.

“My mental health has affected me twice as much as my heart condition.”
Individual with cardiomyopathy

Talking about mental health

“There is still shame attached to mental health problems. People feel they should ‘pull themselves together’ or are told they should.” 
Individual with cardiomyopathy

Mental health conditions can be difficult to talk about, and they are often poorly understood or misunderstood. Some people have particular ideas about what mental health conditions mean, and how someone with a condition will be affected by it.

“This is often to do with lack of knowledge and understanding and if people have not experienced depression/anxiety/mood disorders it is hard for them to really grasp what it is like.”
Individual with cardiomyopathy

Many people feel that there is a stigma around mental health, and are reluctant to raise the issue. Maybe they are worried about themselves, or someone they know, but don’t know who or how to ask for help. Unless their healthcare professionals ask them about it, many people don’t feel able to raise the subject themselves. This can be a vicious cycle with people feeling uncomfortable or unable to talk about it, which makes it harder to raise the issue.

“Just a simple question, such as ‘How are you coping’ or ‘How does that make you feel?’
would mean so much to us...”
Individual with cardiomyopathy

Being able to talk about mental health, and find strategies to cope, may help you to feel more empowered around managing your condition.
Find out more about services and support available.

“At first I worried about my diagnosis... but I quickly decided what a waste it would be to look back at 85 and think about all that time spent worrying which you never get back. I know not everyone can be
this positive but if they can look at things this way then they will get the most out of life.”
Individual with cardiomyopathy

Mental health conditions

Mental health conditions are not uncommon. It is estimated that over 10 million people in England have a mental health condition (the Kings Fund, opens new window). 1 in 4 people will have a mental illness at some point in their lives (Rethink Mental Illness,opens new window).

There are many mental health conditions. The number of people living with them, and how they are affected by them, varies. Some conditions, such as anxiety and depression, are more common:
anxiety affects around 5 in 100 people, depression affects around 3 in 100 people, and around 8 in 100 people have both anxiety and depression. Others, such as bipolar disorder and OCD (obsessive
compulsive disorder) are less common (Mind, opens new window).

Not everyone will fit easily into a definition of a mental health condition, and the difference between conditions can be subtle. Some people have mental health conditions in isolation, and some have them alongside other health conditions. The Department of Health estimates that more than 15 million people in England have at least one long-term condition (a condition that cannot be cured but
can be treated) (Department of Health, opens new window). And people with long-term conditions are more likely to have mental health conditions that people without long-term conditions (The Kings Fund, opens new window). In fact, it is estimated that 30% (or 1 in 3) people with a long-term condition also have a mental health condition (The Kings Fund, opens new window).

Some mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression, may be more common in people with cardiomyopathy than other mental health conditions.

“I feel unless people have been affected by this themselves,
either personally or family, friend, the understanding isn’t there.”

Individual with cardiomyopathy

Examples of some mental health conditions

  • Anxiety – where you feel worried or fearful, and this feels overwhelming and it is hard to overcome the feelings. This can cause problems with being able to sleep, not eating, palpitations (feeling your heart beating), and feelings of panic.
  • Bipolar disease – where you have extremes of mood, such as feeling very ‘high’ (sometimes called mania) and very low (depression). This can be very distressing or overwhelming, and can affect everyday life. 
  • Depression – where your mood is low for a long period of time, and affects your day-to-day life. You might experience feelings of despair and hopelessness. It might feel hard to be motivated to do anything, or enjoy things in life you used to take pleasure in. It can lead to severe feelings such as suicidal thoughts.
  • OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) – this is a type of anxiety disorder which causes obsessions (such as unwanted and persistent thoughts that can be worrying or distressing) and compulsions (repetitive actions that you feel an urge to complete).
  • Schizophrenia – where you may experience hallucinations (for example seeing or hearing something that is not there) or delusions (believing something that is not real), your thinking is disorganised, you may feel unconnected to how you feel and feel differently towards people. 
  • Postnatal depression – this is a type of depression that can happen following the birth of a baby. It is more common in women, but can affect a man too, and usually starts within a year from the birth. It can include persistent feelings of sadness, low mood, lack of engagement with others or losing interest in things, and problems concentrating.
  • PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) – this is a type of anxiety disorder caused by very frightening, stressful or upsetting experiences (such as serious accidents and abuse). It can affect people who have experienced the event, or have seen an event happening to someone else. It can cause vivid flash-backs which can be distressing, and cause feelings of isolation or problems sleeping and concentrating.

These are simplified explanations. Find out more about mental health conditions.

How are mental health conditions managed?

Different mental health conditions have different forms of treatment and ways of managing them. Some treatments are medications, and others focus on psychological interventions (such as types of therapy). If you are concerned that you may be experiencing a mental health condition, you might like to contact your GP or specialist (if you have one) to talk about this.
These organisations can give you further advice on mental health.

What is the impact of mental health conditions on physical health?

Mental health conditions can affect all aspects of life, and can affect how you feel, how you think and your behaviour. It can also have a big impact on your physical health. For example, it can cause problems with sleep or affect your eating, you may not feel like being active, and it may affect your concentration, memory or ability to make decisions. It can also cause problems such as sweating, headaches, breathlessness and palpitations (where you are aware of, and can feel, your heart beat).

There are many different terms used to refer to ‘mental health’, including ‘psychological health’ and ‘emotional wellbeing’. When preparing this booklet we asked people their views about mental health, including what term they prefer to use when referring to it. In an online survey, people with  cardiomyopathy, and family, friends and carers, preferred the term ‘emotional wellbeing’ to describe
mental health. For this reason we usethe term ‘emotional wellbeing’ as people felt that this was more positive, and less stigmatising, than ‘mental health’. However, many services and charities refer to ‘mental health’ and so we use this term too, where appropriate.

“People are seen in a negative light… perhaps if we spoke of ‘wellbeing’ it would be better.”
Carer of someone with cardiomyopathy

Throughout this section we also use the word ‘cope’. Although some people avoid this term as the opposite, ‘not coping’, is often seen as negative and as ‘failure’, it is also a widely accepted way of asking if people are ‘OK’. We use this as a positive term to mean when people find a way to ‘deal with’ and ‘manage’ what is happening. 

“There should be more support for dealing with the psychological aspects…. To understand and manage the maelstrom of emotions you can have, by talking to someone about it, would be very beneficial. A positive mental attitude can help you to feel better physically too.”
Individual with cardiomyopathy

©Cardiomyopathy UK. October 2017