Emotional Well-being: A to Z of Word Meanings

You can search for anything linked to emotional well‑being in our handy A-Z guide.




Schizophrenia is an illness affecting thoughts, feelings and behaviour.  It is a type of psychosis which means that the person loses touch with reality - they may find it hard to work out what are the thoughts in their head and what is really actually happening. Schizophrenia does not mean that the person has a ‘split personality’ or that they will be violent.

If a person has schizophrenia, they may have some of these symptoms -

Delusions - these are strong beliefs that you feel are real but other people think are untrue. They can be very frightening and you may not be able to explain why you believe them. An example of this is a strong feeling that someone is out to get you or that aliens are contacting you through your phone, you may not be able to explain to others how you know, you just ‘know’.

Hallucinations - this is where you can feel, hear or see things that aren’t really there, although you’re convinced that they are. Hearing voices is one of the most common hallucinations; the voices may tell you how to act or what to do. Family or friends may hear you laughing or talking to yourself.

Muddled thinking or thought disorder - this is when it’s difficult to think straight, it may be that others can’t understand what you’re trying to explain or that you feel as though your thoughts are jumbled.  You may find it hard to concentrate and your mind may keep wandering off task.

Sometimes people with schizophrenia have what are called ‘negative’ symptoms, this doesn’t mean ‘bad’ symptoms, it just means there are things they no longer feel able to do because they feel tired or unmotivated like going out, keeping clean or seeing friends.

It isn’t known yet what exactly causes schizophrenia but it can become really serious, it has been shown that medication can be really helpful in treating it so if you are concerned that schizophrenia may be affecting you or someone you know, it is important that you try to get help from a professional as soon as possible.

If you want to find out more about schizophrenia you can click to Headmeds and Young Minds.

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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Most people are affected by the change of weather and seasons, many of us are much happier during the warm summer months when the sun shines longer and we often feel healthier and more energised.  Often, in the cold, dark, wet days of winter, people may tend to go out less and sleep or eat more.  For people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) though, these changes in season will have a much bigger effect on their mood and energy levels, possibly leading to depression which can have a bigger impact on their day to day lives.

SAD is a type of depression (link) that most commonly affects people during winter months, although it can occur during summer.  Symptoms are very similar to those of depression but with SAD, these often improve when spring arrives. Symptoms can include things like feelings of hopelessness, anxiety, guilt, loss of sex drive, anger, weight gain/ loss and lack of energy.

The cause of SAD is still unknown but some people suggest that it might be made worse by the lack of natural light during winter days so it could be that a lightbox - a special kind of light with a stronger UV light than a normal lamp - can be helpful. Going out for a walk during the daytime and talking to someone about how you’re feeling might also help.

To find out more about SAD visit Mind Your Head.

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Sectioning / Being Sectioned

When someone is very unwell they often do not know it. They can be in a place where they might be extremely distressed, a serious danger to themselves, or less commonly they may be a danger to other people.

There is law called the Mental Health Act which means that when a person is this unwell, and there is no other way to keep them safe, they can be held in a hospital and treated – sometimes this is against their will to try and help them.

This only happens if three professionals, usually including a Mental Health Professional such as a Social Worker, and two doctors assess the person and agree this is the right thing to do. They would usually try to speak to a persons’ nearest relative first.

The word section comes from the “section” or part of the law that is being used.

This can be quite a scary process for a person who is unwell and they may not fully understand what is happening at the time, but it is intended to keep them safe and help them find the right help. If people find themselves or someone they know feeling very very unwell they can ask for help at the hospital without being “sectioned”.

Knowing their rights can help a person feel more in control. You can find out more about being sectioned and rights at The Mix and Rethink.

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Self Esteem

Your self-esteem is how you feel about yourself, it’s made up of all the judgements and beliefs you have formed about who you are, how you behave, and how you look. It can be impacted positively or negatively by comments and behaviours of friends, family, society and the media, and the experiences we have and the feedback we get in life.

Having a positive self-esteem helps people feel positive in life and to stand up for themselves, express what they want and need, and look forward to the future. Having a positive self-esteem doesn't mean someone thinks they are perfect or better than anyone else – it just means they can see the value in themselves and can enjoy being themselves. Feeling good about yourself is a great starting point to take on the world.

Of course we all think badly of ourselves from time to time and sometimes we are tough on ourselves, but having a low self-esteem for long periods of time can make life harder.

With a poor self-esteem people are more likely to

  • treat themselves badly
  • allow others to treat them badly
  • take risks (like taking drugs, having unhealthy sex, getting involved in gangs)
  • miss out on opportunities
  • not care for themselves properly
  • see things as a personal failure
  • do things they don't want to

They also might not see themselves as attractive or interesting, a good person, or as someone who can do anything useful or who has a positive future.

This can make a person feel lonely, depressed or anxious and can make it harder for them to live everyday life.

With so many negative comments, high expectations, pressures and outright haters in society it can be hard to keep our self-esteem up all the time

It’s sometimes easier to take on board the negative things and listen to the things society and people tell us are wrong or not good enough than to take on the positives that help us feel good, know we are fabulous, and make a balanced judgement of ourselves.

There is lots people can do to help themselves build their self-esteem so they can keep a real, healthy balanced view of themselves – knowing they are valuable and worthy of the good things in life. You could talk to someone about how to do this, or find more information and tips on how to boost your self esteem at Childline and Young Minds.

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Self Help

Self Help is a word that’s used to describe all the things we can do to manage our health and well-being (physical and emotional) We don't always need experts and professionals, and even when we do there is a lot we can do for ourselves to help improve our well-being – after all we are the people who know ourselves best.

Self-help might involve things like

  • Identifying and taking small steps to make a change (like walking ten minutes a day, or turning a phone off an hour before going to sleep.)
  • Learning our own likes, dislikes, wants and needs so we can say yes or no and mean it.
  • Keeping a feelings diary
  • Writing down 5 things a day that we are grateful for (this can really help)
  • Catching ourselves when we think bad things about ourselves and reminding ourselves
  • Choosing to spend time only with people that make us feel valued.

There are lots of self-help activities and they can be really effective. It’s something that we can do ourselves at our own pace, and that we can take control of.

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When people are dealing with difficult feelings or events, feel bad about themselves, or don't know how to manage a situation, they sometimes hurt themselves as a way of coping or taking control. They often don't know what else to do. They may do things that hurt their body, their self-esteem or both. It could be something they do (e.g. smoking, burning, hair pulling, cutting) or something they don't do (depriving themselves of something such as food).

There is a myth that self-harming is attention seeking, or that people who self-harm are actually suicidal. This is usually untrue. Most people who self-harm have been trying to manage problems and feelings for some time; they are trying to cope and to survive. Many people who self-harm may try and hide it, and when they do show that they have self-harmed it is rarely for “attention”.

Many people who self-harm do have problems they would like some help with, or at least need to be able to communicate their feelings. Learning to develop safe and more useful coping strategies can really help. There is also something called “harm reduction” which is when a person learns how to do something as safely as possible or reduce the risks of that action when they know they are going to do it even though it is dangerous.

For more information on self-harm please click to Childline, Self Harm UK or Headmeds.

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Self-image is the idea we have about our abilities, appearance, and personality.

Self-image is made up of all the beliefs and thoughts we accept about ourselves that we collect from people we know, society, strangers and through our everyday experience. It includes what we think of who we are, what we have done, how we look, and what we think the future holds for us.

We aren't all perfect and so there are going to be some things we know about ourselves that we can work on- a positive self-image is one that is balanced, supportive of your mental health and which helps a person to survive and get on in life.

A negative self-image is restricting and harmful and can make people treat themselves and allow others to treat them like they don't have value, or can lead them to get involved with things that they think will help them feel more valued and like they belong (e.g. deciding to take a drug because others are, or get involved in a gang)

The impact of self-image

Take the experience where someone is late.

One person might think I’m no good at time keeping, because I’m crap at everything, and no-one cares if I turn up on time anyway, and it’s because I’m lazy.

Another person might think I'm late today, and so I need to apologise and make up for it. It’s OK though. These things happen, I can learn from it and I'm still a good person.

How we talk to ourselves really impacts on how well we feel and what we do – it’s important we keep working to be kind to ourselves – it doesn’t mean we let ourselves off the hook when we mess up, but it does mean we don’t beat ourselves up about it. It also means we can learn to take compliments and feedback and value ourselves.

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Self-medication is when someone has something going on (a symptom / symptoms or an illness or condition) that they don't want to feel or accept or treat with medication and so they decide to use something like drugs or alcohol, or some act, like staying in, having lots of sex, or self-harming to try and mask that feeling or symptom or take it away – maybe so they don't have to talk about it or admit there is a problem, maybe because they found that for a short while self-medicating got rid of the problem. This can be a risky course of action for a number of reasons:

  • it could make the problem worse
  • it could bring new problems (like debt, problems with police)
  • hangovers or comedowns can make people feel worse and stop people doing well with work/college/with their family and friends
  • it could lead to getting involved in other dangerous activities
  • it could stop medication from working
  • it could create an addiction
  • it could bring about small and serious health problems
  • it could mean a totally fixable problem is with a person for longer

Knowledge is power – people should make decisions about how they want to manage their situation and feelings – but we don't always know all the information to help us decide what to do. You can talk to lots of people confidentially – even without giving your name. If you are experiencing something you are trying to hide or make go away please do talk to someone in whichever way you can. If you were taking medication but the side effects are too much or they don't seem to be working it could be there is something else that will work better for you.

You can also visit Choosing What's Best For You to see what other things might help with the problems you are having and here to see about what medication or treatment might help.

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See Divorce and Separation.

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Sexuality is simply who we are attracted to and the types of things we like doing with someone. Some people feel happy with “labelling” their sexuality e.g. heterosexual or bisexual; others prefer not to have a label. Either way it is OK. Having positive sexual or romantic relationships is healthy.

Being attracted to someone does not mean that you want to have sex with them – the relationships and sex we want to have (or not have) is individual to us. If people do want to have sex, so long as the sex we are interested in is legal, consensual and safe and partners get out of it what they want it’s probably healthy. No-one should ever be pressurized into doing something they don't want to do.

Sexuality is not a mental health problem, and nor is wanting to do things sexually that are consensual and don't hurt other people. People do however sometimes face challenges accepting or understanding who they are or face stigma or rejection by others because of who they are or what they are attracted to. This can lead them to feel low or badly about themselves and can sometimes lead to risky behaviour, coping strategies or isolation.

Often people may not have had chance to pick up useful information to help them understand their sexuality – sex education can be really limited and there’s lots of myths and stereotypes around.

To find out more information, or to find groups where young people talk about sexuality and meet others who identify as LGBTQI+ then you can visit our LGBTQI+ page.

(LGBTQIA+ = lesbian, gay, transgender, questioning, intersex, asexual, plus other sexualities).

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Sleep is so important to our physical and mental health. If sleep is disturbed regularly life can seem much harder and we can find it much harder to complete even simple tasks or enjoy and cope with life...

There’s all sorts of things that can affect sleep including:

  • Anxiety or worrying
  • Noise
  • Overcrowding
  • Nightmares
  • Physical or mental illnesses
  • Mobile phones and technology
  • Substance use (like caffeine, energy drinks, alcohol, smoking and street drugs)
  • Having too much to do and too little time to do it
  • Not having a routine
  • Puberty (teenagers brains aren’t set to go to sleep early and so often find it hard to feel sleepy early enough to get a good nights kip)

To find out more about why sleep is important and what you can try to help you get to sleep visit Childline or Young Minds.

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Smoking is sold as a way of coping with difficult things by people who have used this coping strategy for years, or by those who attempt to explain why people do it. Actually, being a “stimulant” drug nicotine actually makes us more anxious and unsettled. (The chemicals in cigarettes also harm our body and it has to take energy to continue responding to the toxicity)

Quitting smoking can be an epic thing – building confidence, and making people feel so much better. If someone want to think about stopping smoking they can start here at Childline or The Mix.

All that said, if you do smoke please don't be put off from asking for help. You don't need to quit to get help.

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Stigma is the word that describes a negative social view that is heard in society about certain types of people or certain types of problems.

For example if we grow up in a culture where we often hear that “all young people are trouble” – young people live with the expectation that people think they are badly behaved and people to be wary of.

  • There is stigma in society about mental health issues (though this is improving)
  • When people are given a “diagnosis” or “label” about their mental health they often feel “stigmatised”. They may fear being talked about, judged, or discriminated against by other people. Sometimes this fear is strong enough to stop them asking for help or talking to anyone about their problems. Stigma hurts.
  • Mental health problems are just like any other health issue. They are a normal part of life and not a persons’ fault, or something to keep quiet about.
  • In fact 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems during their life.

Thankfully people are now talking more and more about mental health issues and lots of public figures and celebrities are opening up about their experience, students in school are learning more about mental health and all this means the stigma is slowly fading away.

We can all play a part in making it easier to talk; we can learn the facts about mental health problems and call people out when they say things that add to stigma.

You can find out more about stopping stigma, at Time to Change.


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Fight or Flight: Our brain is designed to give us the energy and the power we need to deal with dangerous situations - like facing a lion.  If someone comes face to face with a lion their brain releases a whole load of energy to give them the focus and the strength to save their life – either by running away or fighting it. This is often called “fight or flight” or “stress reaction”. The person is boosted up to deal with it, and then, when the danger's gone, their body can relax.

People don't face lions often, but life does throw up a load of other new, different, or difficult situations, experiences and changes. When someone is at risk of physical or emotional harm, or when someone is facing a new or unpredictable situation, the brain gives the person this same energy boost to help prepare them for whatever is coming. The pulse and breathing speed up, muscles tense, the sweats and clammy hands come, and the brain uses more oxygen and increases its activity focusing on the situation - blocking out all other things as best it can.

The energy is sometimes useful e.g. running for a bus when you are late, but other times it’s not that helpful at all. Problems or ‘stressors’ (the things that cause you stress) sometimes come at the same time, and sometimes they don't disappear overnight and often they aren't things we can fight or run from such as a big workload or moving house.  In facing these situations, people can live in a constant state of being “over energised” or “stressed” or “fixated on a problem” and there is no chance for the body to rest and recover and returned to its relaxed state – it’s stress overload

There’s lots of things that can cause stress, but sometimes there just doesn't seem to be an explanation, the stress is still real.

Being stressed long term can harm our physical health and emotional health and affect our success and enjoyment of everyday life. Stress can make people totally fixated on the stressors or problems making it hard to deal with or enjoy other things. If someone finds themselves feeling stress a lot of the time, or it’s affecting their lives they may find talking to someone, or speaking to a professional can help.

This video explains more about how stress and anxiety works.

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Sometimes things seem so bad, and so hopeless that a person can't believe things will get better and they have suicidal thoughts – thoughts about ending their life, or they act to end their life.

It is always true that things can get better.

If someone feels suicidal, or has experience of someone who has felt that way it is vital that they talk it through with someone they trust urgently.

They should call 999 if they have already done something to hurt themselves.

Calling/texting or emailing the Samaritans, Childline or Hopeline is confidential. They will not tell anyone unless you ask them too. You can talk openly and frankly about feelings and not be judged. There are also all sorts of people in the community who can help, including those who have felt those feelings themselves.

For more support on suicidal feelings or suicide please visit or contact

Childline: 0800 1111 / email or online chat

Hopeline: 0800 068 41 41 / text 07786 209697

Samaritans: 116 123

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If you still have unanswered questions, you can go to a service in your area for information & advice:

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