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.
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. Experts with credentials in marriage and family therapy graduate programs would advise that 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
Lack of spirituality or religious affiliation
Lack of meaningful work or hobbies
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.