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How Environmental Factors Impact Mental Health

health care professional reviewing records with patient
Published 06/19/2018
3 minutes read
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Mental illness is one of many widespread health challenges and the conditions surrounding it is complex and multi-causal. Many people often assume mental illness simply runs in families. This can be true, but genetics are only a part of it. These disorders can actually occur due to a combination of factors, including a person’s environment and lifestyle.

The world a person lives and functions within can play a major role in mental health. Below, we’ll talk about two types of environmental factors that can make a person susceptible to mental illness.

Physical Environmental Factors

Physical environmental factors contributing to mental illness are those that have the power to affect a person’s biology or neurochemistry, thereby increasing their chances of developing a disorder. For example, if a person lacks access to health-related resources such as whole, nutrient-rich foods and they tend to eat more processed and refined foods, their body (and brain) won’t function optimally. As a result, if they encounter a major stressor, they may not have the resources to effectively cope.

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In addition to poor nutrition, some other examples of physical environmental factors are:

  • Sleep deprivation
  • Smoking
  • Substance abuse
  • Pollution
  • Exposure to toxins during childhood
  • Extreme weather conditions (such as excessive rain or snow)
  • Hazardous conditions at work

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Social Environmental Factors

Social environmental factors refer to socioeconomic, racial and ethnic, and relational conditions that may influence a person’s ability to cope with stress. A good example is not having a strong social support system. Let’s say a person loses their job or goes through a divorce. Having supportive friends and family during this time is vital to their ability to cope with the stress.

A lack of social support is just one type of social environmental factor. Others include:

  • Social stigma (such as coming out as gay or lesbian)
  • History of abuse
  • Family discord during childhood
  • Early loss of a parent
  • Poverty
  • Lack of spirituality or religious affiliation
  • Lack of meaningful work or hobbies
  • Toxic relationships
  • Lack of self-care and/or relaxation
     

Overall health and well-being require a good balance of mental, physical, social, emotional, and spiritual health. Although mental illness itself is heritable, a wide variety of factors like genetics, economic, social, and physical influences also contribute to the development of a disorder. All of these factors must be taken into consideration for a psychologist to effectively diagnose and treat mental illness.

Are you interested in helping others face their problems? Alliant International University offers two doctorate programs in Clinical Psychology (PsyD and PhD) that will provide the tools you need to be a rock of support for your patients. For more information, contact Alliant today or visit our California School of Professional Psychology.

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