Mental health: ethnic minority experiences

Anxiety, negativity, mania & loss of energy

Here, people talk about what it's like to have symptoms associated with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Symptoms vary across these conditions and include anxiety, panic attacks, suicidal feelings, loss of motivation, mania ('high' or energised mood), negative feelings, disturbed sleep, not looking after yourself properly, and problems eating. Not everyone who is diagnosed with a particular condition will experience all the symptoms associated with that condition and some will experience symptoms not listed here (see 'Hallucinations & delusions'). People with schizophrenia and other conditions may also experience some of the symptoms described here. The Rethink website has further information about symptoms associated with different mental health conditions.

What's it like to feel anxious and have panic attacks?
Many people we talked to described feeling anxious, stressed and worried. For those with anxiety related disorders, worry dominated their thoughts and feelings to a point where it made it difficult for them to do everyday things, including shopping, eating, sleeping, socialising and making decisions. Some felt worried constantly, others felt anxious from time to time and this sometimes was a warning sign that they were becoming unwell. Anxiety could be a general feeling or worries about something specific. People mentioned a range of worries including going out of the house, physical illness and fear of dying. One man was worried about having an arranged marriage [see Shaukat below]. Some people even felt worried about their anxiety or about having a panic attack.

Some people experienced panic attacks. A panic attack is an exaggerated response to situations seen as potentially threatening - sometimes called the 'fight or flight' response - where the body produces adrenalin which can lead muscles to tense-up, breathing to quicken, and the heart to beat fast. Some people experienced panic attacks regularly. People felt they had panic attacks 'out of the blue', although sometimes they were caused by feeling particularly stressed, or happened in certain situations, for example, at night. Some people said these attacks felt as if they were having a heart attack.

Some people experience anxiety through their bodies as headaches or stomach aches (see 'Ways of describing mental health problems'), and therefore worry that they have a serious physical problem.

What's it like to have negative thoughts and feelings?
Having negative thoughts and feelings is a common experience for people with all kinds of mental health problems and can include feeling sad, inadequate, bad about yourself, guilty, worthless, helpless and pessimistic. While all people experience negative thoughts from time to time, people with mental health problems may find them overwhelming and difficult to shake off. People described feeling that life was pointless, that they felt physically unattractive, empty, full of regret, unloved, to blame for their problems, useless, guilty, and helpless. People also felt like isolating themselves and found it difficult to engage with other people. For some, these negative thoughts were a temporary but constant presence or came in cycles.

Unfortunately, for many people such negative thoughts and feelings can lead them to want to hurt or kill themselves. Some had intrusive thoughts of suicide. These feelings can be very upsetting. Many people described attempting suicide, some whilst they were teenagers. A few had tried multiple times. For some, the thought of suicide gave a sense of comfort and control, although they didn't plan to go through with it, including one woman who said “I didn't want to kill myself actually. Sometimes I just feel like I don't want to live anymore. I just want to leave the situation and ignore it.” Another young man studying at university said he was “very happy” he survived his suicide attempts. Others recognised the risks involved in attempting suicide, including damaging organs or “ending up on a ventilator” from taking an overdose. A few people described planning their suicide but being unable to go through with it. 

Others harmed themselves (or had in the past) by cutting or burning themselves, pulling their hair or banging their head as a way of feeling better emotionally, if not physically. One woman said she has “scars all over my body” as a result. Others harmed themselves as a way of punishing themselves or as a way of channelling anger [see Sara above].

Despite this, many people wanted to offer hope to others and urged them not to hurt or kill themselves (see 'Messages for others about mental health'). For people thinking of suicide or self-harm, see our list of crisis contacts.

What's it like to have disturbed sleep?
Many people experience difficulty sleeping from time to time, but for some of the people we interviewed, insomnia and sleeping only a few hours a night was a common occurrence. One woman described sleep traumas and sleep paralysis (being unable to move or speak after waking up). Sometimes, difficulty sleeping may be caused by other symptoms, such as hallucinations or anxiety, while for some people, not being able to sleep was recognised as a sign they were becoming unwell. A few people said they couldn't sleep unless they took medication (see 'Prescribed medication for mental health problems and their side effects').

What's it like to lose your energy and concentration? 
Whilst some people struggled to sleep others found it difficult to wake up in the morning and felt constantly exhausted and lacking in energy. This was sometimes made worse by medication. Many people described finding it difficult to motivate themselves to get out of bed or leave the house, or to cook, do housework or work. Some lost interest in their usual activities, including watching television or listening to music. As one woman said, “I feel like I'm draining away”.

In some cases, therefore, people found it difficult to care for themselves, to wash, dress or do their hair.

What's it like to have problems with appetite or an eating disorder?
Many people described losing their appetite or finding it difficult to eat, “I can't eat anything. It's very hard to put it in, it doesn't go so I put some rice or whatever, or bread and I drink water with this and it goes down”. Others described eating too much, “I eat like a pig. I'll have a full meal, and after that I will have two packets of crisps and a full bottle of orange juice”. Also, two women described having eating disorders (anorexia and bulimia - eating too little or too much, or using harmful ways to get rid of calories, such as vomiting, that are driven by a fear of gaining weight). 

What's it like being manic?
Mania is when people feel extremely energetic, optimistic and creative. Mania can feel good, but it can be worrying for family and friends and can switch into depression. Several people experienced mania or “highs” and said that it enabled them to do lots of work in a short amount of time or to have lots of creative ideas. Others described going on spending sprees. A few described erratic or unpredictable and dangerous behaviour, earning one woman the nickname “Mad Max”. One man said that his mania was caused by the drugs he'd been given.

People also mentioned other symptoms in addition to the ones described here (see 'Ways of describing mental health problems').

See 'What else helps' to find out more about how people managed their symptoms. Find out more about experiences of depression and eating disorders.

Last reviewed September 2018.

Last updated November 2010.


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