Explain It To Me Like I’m 7: Mental Health

1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, and 1 in 10 children and young people will experience mental disorders. But what does this actually all mean?

Define mental health for me?

Our mental health is about our ability to cope with what life throws at us and how we feel about ourselves in this big scary world.

Giph of Kimmy Schmitt

Not all of us are unbreakable

No one has perfect mental health or feels great all of the time. That’s something we all go through. What not everybody goes through is a mental illness, or what you could also call a mental health concern or a mental health problem.

BUT more people than you might think go through a mental illness: in England, 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem in any given year, most often in the form of a mixture of anxiety and depression. Also, 1 in 10 children and young people have mental disorders in a given year.

So what exactly is a mental illness?

The National Alliance on Mental Illness explains mental illness as: “a condition that impacts a person’s thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on  daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis.”

Errmm, not too specific is it? The problem with trying to explain mental illness is that it can be so many different kinds of things.

Mental illness is a bit like fruit. There are so many different kinds, like who  decided strawberries and tomatoes are the same kind of food? Also, even within  the same kind of fruit, like bananas, you never get two that are the same kind of  bendiness or yellowness. It’s the same deal with mental illness.

We can at least break it down into different kinds of mental health problems.  There are different kinds of depression, stress, sleeping disorders, eating and  body image disorders and personality disorders, which you can get more  concrete details on here.

The symptoms of a mental illness can be things we all experience from time to time like feeling down, stressed or having trouble sleeping. The difference is that for a period of time (e.g. two weeks for depression) the same symptoms are much stronger, or won’t seem to go away, and begin to be massive barriers to the person experiencing them leading a normal life. ‘Pain in the arse’ doesn’t even cover it.

These problems can be triggered by a number of different things, from serious trauma to everyday stress. A sucky thing about mental health concerns is that often there is no clear cause or explanation. This can make things feel even worse for the person experiencing it because they can’t find a ‘legit’ reason to explain why they feel bad.

What’s it like to have a mental illness?

Remember the banana thing from earlier? We can’t really explain what any one person goes through when they experience mental illness.

But that’s cool because the internet is a goldmine for things to help us understand what it’s like to live with mental illnesses.

These Hyperbole and a Half posts just plain get depression: Adventures in Depression Part I, Part II.

There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness. This is because mental illness is not always understood as being like any other illness, and mentally ill people can be accused of being lazy or attention seeking. A whopping 9 out of 10 people with mental health problems experience discrimination. Not cool.

The thing is, as Professor Weare of Southampton Uni told the Guardian: “You wouldn’t go to someone lying in bed with a fever and tell them they could get up if they wanted to. There is a failure to understand that mental health problems are an illness – they are not something that you can snap out of and are not anybody’s fault.”

What to do if your BFF tells you they have a mental health concern

Mental health support charity Mind have a great page of advice on this.

Giph of Joey hugging Chandler from friends


It’s all super basic BFF stuff that you probably have down already: Hear what they’re telling you and show your support. Sending postcards and letters, even if you live in the same neighbourhood can be a great way of showing you’re there for them while still giving them space.

Don’t be afraid to ask them how they are, but remember that the problem they are going through is just one part of who they are, so don’t focus too much on it. Try to keep in mind how you would treat someone with a serious disease or broken bone. Saying things like ‘you’ll get over it’ or ‘just try and cheer up’ are definite no-nos.

What do I do if I think I might have a mental health concern?

Recognising the issue for what it is is already half the battle, and getting the ball rolling on recovery by seeking professional advice is the other half. Some people go a long time feeling like the reason why they have a hard time getting through a day is because of some sort of personal failure, not because of an illness that there are many possible ways out of.

Again, Mind has some great advice pages on taking care of yourself and what kind of services and support is out there.

Talk to your friends and family, but also connect with people going through similar things. For example you can enjoy podcast Mental Health Happy Hour.

Mental Health Explained: Mental health is how we all cope with the world. Mental illnesses are disorders which make that much more difficult. Imagine that you’ve got a problem with your heart or your liver, but instead it’s a problem with your brain – mental illness is just that, an illness.

Subscribe to our newsletter and let us do the explaining. Also Like and Follow for regular decoded news.