What factors can contribute to mental health symptoms and / or conditions?
Mental Health Introduction
What is mental health? In my opinion, mental health is a scale that ranges from wellness to illness. Like physical health, mental health can change overtime. You may not always be experiencing symptoms, and conditions / symptoms may re-appear throughout your lifetime. Also, like physical health, certain mental health symptoms and conditions may be experienced worse than others.
Think of a common cold versus pneumonia. A common cold is still considered an illness. Although it is not as dangerous to your health as pneumonia, it is still treated to prevent the common cold from developing into a worse illness. Now, let us look at depression. When depressive symptoms first appear, one may feel extreme sadness for an extended period of time. One may even begin to feel hopeless in the early stages. However, imagine if depression is recognized and treated before the individual experiences thoughts of suicide.
Just because a mental health symptom or mental health condition does not appear to be “extremely severe” does not mean that the individual experiencing the symptom or condition does not deserve help, support, and/or treatment.
If we look at mental health in the same capacity as physical health, we will gain a new perspective that evolves into a world without the stigma. To better understand mental health, let us explore where symptoms and conditions can come from.
Like certain physical illnesses, mental illness can also develop from biological factors. For example, there has been research that shows a genetic link between certain cancers and family history of the same cancer. There has also been research that shows a genetic link between Alzheimer’s and a family history of Alzheimer’s. Similarly, there have been studies done that show a link between genetic and certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder (evidence is not conclusive).
As we all know, every human being is biologically different, even though we share many common physical features. A person’s biological makeup may determine how one behaves and interacts within their environment. Therefore, biological factors can contribute to mental health conditions.
It is important to remember that genetics is not the only biological factor. Brain chemistry, gender, hormone levels, and nutrition also influence one’s biological makeup. Furthermore, the interaction between the various biological factors and other factors (environmental, psychological, and social) can play an important role.
Brain chemistry can be affected by factors, such as brain damage and drug and alcohol usage / abuse. Brain damage may result from physical health conditions, such as seizures. Why is brain chemistry important? Your brain releases several chemicals that impact one’s mood (serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are a few examples).
Biological gender can also impact one’s mental health, through gender-linked stress, trauma and / or reproductive cycle stages. Research shows that women are perceived to be more susceptible to mental health conditions due to how these factors affect their mood.
Hormone levels also play a role in one’s mental health. Deficiencies in hormones like progesterone, estrogen, and testosterone can influence one’s mood, energy levels, reproductive cycle symptoms, and more.
Lastly, nutrition is a key part of mental health. What we put inside of our bodies has a direct effect on our internal system. Poor nutrition can lead to vitamin deficiencies that not only affect our mood, but also energy levels.
There are some factors we have very little control over, such as genetics. However, one factor we have a lot of control over is our environment. Yet, our environment tends to be one of the biggest causes of mental health symptoms and conditions.
Our environment is made up of two key components, physical environment, and social environment. Both aspects of our environment are equally important in maintaining our mental health.
What encompasses our physical environment? Air pollution, work conditions that cause significant stress to the mind / body, weather, smoking (second-hand smoke included), loud noises, exposure to toxic chemicals (ex. household cleaning supplies), physical hazards (ex. dangerous workplace situations), household environment (ex. cleanliness, safety, chemicals, lighting, outdoor space, physical barriers), natural environment (ex. weather, plants / trees), physical barriers (especially for individuals living with a disability), school setting (ex. location, structure, stressors, hazards), workplace (ex. location, structure, stressors, hazards), and recreational facilities (ex. access, structure, location, hazards).
What encompasses our social environment? Stigma on mental health and treatment options (ex. therapy, medication), prejudice / discrimination (ex. racism, homophobia, transphobia, sexism), violence (within household or local community), abuse (physical, sexual, emotional), poverty, lack of necessities (food, shelter, water), media (ex. social media, news, television shows), technology (ex. cell phones, computers), relationships / lack of social support (ex. family, friends, self), self-esteem, and lack of physical safety.
All of these factors (and more) can influence one’s overall mental health. Think anxiety, depression, PTSD. It is also important to remember that the interaction between one’s social and physical environment can affect mental health.
Lastly, psychological factors are a key part in our mental health development. Psychological factors include our feelings, thoughts, behaviors, and attitude. Psychological factors are something we have a lot of control over, if we educate ourselves and our youth on warning signs and how to cope. Unfortunately, in today’s world, we tend to not discuss how psychological factors can play a key role in our mental health nor do we tend to provide the tools and resources needed to cultivate our mental health in regard to these factors.
Psychological factors include how we cope with life’s stressors (ex. suppressing our emotions, avoidance, healthy vs unhealthy coping mechanisms, defense mechanisms), social support (ex. invalidation, gaslighting), acceptance (from loved ones, especially parents), intrusive / negative thoughts, and personality (ex. use of humor, perfectionist).
When we discuss mental health symptoms and conditions, it is extremely important we look at the full picture. Often times, we provide ourselves with a very limited understanding of what can be the root cause of our symptoms and/or conditions. By looking at the full picture and how the various factors interact with each other, we are able to better understand where our symptoms / conditions stem from and how we can make changes to better cultivate our mental health.