While most people understand that genetic factors, environmental conditions, and traumatic events can influence mental health, several other factors can also affect mental health. These components can quickly add up to a great deal of undue stress and undesirable mental health outcomes.
Learning about how these factors affect mental health can help people understand why they feel the way they do and when to seek professional treatment for their mental distress. Here are six surprising factors that affect mental health.
Our environment shapes our identity, our connection to the world, and even our mental health. People who experience poverty, either as a child or as an adult, are placed under intense stress that can exacerbate mental health symptoms and contribute to mental illness. Just a few of the stressors faced by people living in poverty include:
- Food insecurity
- Housing insecurity
- Financial instability
- Fewer mental and physical health resources
These stressors can quickly lead to feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and depression. In addition, people living below the poverty line are more likely to engage in harmful behaviors such as smoking, substance use, and low physical activity levels. Low-income communities often have fewer resources available to help support and treat mental health.
All these factors contribute to elevated rates of mental illness among people experiencing poverty. As a result, many people in poverty will live with untreated mental illness for years despite the advances in modern therapeutic and psychiatric treatment methods.
Discrimination can show up as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, and ableism – all of which negatively affect mental health in several ways. Anyone experiencing discrimination can feel disenfranchised and alienated.
The most obvious example of discrimination that affects mental health is hate crimes or unfair persecution. These events can change how people view themselves and the world around them. Victims of hate crimes and unjust persecution are at risk of developing mental health concerns that can impact them for the rest of their lives.
But discrimination can be harmful in other ways as well. If a person can’t get a job due to race, sexual orientation, or gender identity, they can experience undue financial stress and insecurity. Such stress can further contribute to harmful effects on a person’s mental health.
Studies have shown that people who have experienced discrimination show higher rates of drug or alcohol use. Another study has found that people who experience discrimination frequently, meaning at least a few times a month, have a 25% higher rate of mental illness and experience much greater stress levels.
Surprisingly, academic performance can affect mental health as well. Several studies have shown that poor performance in school can often lead to mental health concerns such as substance use disorders, depression, and anxiety.
While this data doesn’t necessarily indicate a direct causal relationship, poor academic performance is a key warning sign that somebody may go on to experience mental health difficulties.
Interestingly, this effect is bidirectional: poor mental health can lead to poor academic performance, and poor academic performance can negatively affect mental health.
Students with learning disabilities, in particular, experience more adverse mental health symptoms. One study found that 70% of students with a learning disability experienced significant anxiety symptoms.
4. Childhood Trauma
Over 30% of adults report experiencing at least one traumatic event in their childhood. Studies have found that people who experienced traumatic events in childhood are more likely to develop a psychiatric illness, even when they feel they have moved beyond their struggles.
A traumatic experience can be anything from a serious injury, sexual violence, or actual or threatened death. This exposure could happen through direct experience, witnessing the event, learning about an incident happening to a close friend or family member, or repeatedly being exposed to the event’s details.
The important thing to remember is that even if you don’t believe that the past is affecting you now, you may have learned to behave in a way that protects you from reexperiencing trauma. People who have overcome trauma may struggle in different ways, such as:
- Not allowing yourself to have close, intimate relationships
- Avoiding certain situations or people
- Keeping yourself at a distance from family and friends
- Repressing your emotional responses
We all develop coping mechanisms to keep us safe from immediate danger, but sometimes, we outgrow them. Even if these strategies have helped in the past, they may negatively affect mental health symptoms when our circumstances change.
5. Physical Injuries and Illnesses
Although most of the factors that affect mental health on this list relate to personal or environmental factors, physical causes like disease, injury, or chronic pain can also negatively affect mental health.
The most obvious example of a physical condition that can affect mental health is traumatic brain injury (TBI). People who have lived through car accidents, explosions, or falls and suffered trauma to the head often experience negative mental health symptoms. They may feel confused or become easily frustrated or angry. They could have problems with their memory, focus, and mood.
The type and severity of an injury play a role in influencing mental health. Depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, mania, and post-traumatic stress disorder all occur at elevated levels in people who have experienced traumatic brain injury.
But other physical conditions can affect mental health as well, including:
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Chronic pain
- Chronic illness
- Chronic fatigue
People living with these illnesses have elevated rates of mental illness compared to the general population. They often feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or fearful of the future. Fortunately, treating the symptoms of mental illness and reducing the symptoms can help improve our quality of life, even if we can’t completely resolve the underlying health issue.
Loneliness is a significant factor in worsening mental health symptoms. At first glance, this might not seem surprising until you consider we can all feel lonely at times, even when surrounded by family and friends.
In several psychological studies, researchers have found that loneliness is a distinct phenomenon, separate from social isolation. Loneliness refers specifically to feeling alone, regardless of how much social contact a person has. And unsurprisingly, people who experience high rates of loneliness also experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide.
Certain people experience loneliness at higher rates than others. For instance, members of the LGBTQIA+ population have higher rates of loneliness than the general population. Race can also play a considerable factor in loneliness.
The data indicates that these groups can often feel as though they are not seen, heard, or understood, even with the support of their community, and they can experience significant mental distress in response to their loneliness.
Getting Help for Mental Health
There are plenty of ways to support the eight dimensions of wellness, but it’s essential to understand that sometimes, systemic issues create barriers that aren’t easy for anyone to overcome alone. Community and advocacy can go a long way in acknowledging the intersectionality of our human experiences, but sometimes, professional support is a necessary intervention.
If you’d like to learn more about how All Points North can help disrupt barriers to mental wellness, reach out to our team. We offer extensive treatment options for mental health, trauma, and addiction. Everyone deserves support in their most vulnerable moments, and no one is beyond repair. You can find ways to cope and overcome with the right tools and guidance. Contact us today to get started.