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mental illness
January 10, 2022

Causes of Mental Illness

Mental illnesses are a leading cause of disability worldwide and severely impact people’s overall health and quality of life. Among the millions of people who struggle with conditions such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, personality disorders and addiction, only a fraction will ever seek help. 

Mental health issues are so prevalent in our society that you likely know someone living with one of these disorders, or perhaps you have one yourself. However, these chronic conditions remain stigmatized and poorly understood. Let’s examine some causes of mental illness.

Genetics

A growing body of evidence suggests that mental illnesses tend to run in families, so if you have a relative living with one of these conditions, you might be more vulnerable to developing one yourself. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you will struggle with the same symptoms or issues. For example, if your mother has an anxiety disorder, that could make you susceptible to any mental health challenge – perhaps anxiety, but maybe something else. 

The hereditary component of mental illness is complex, involving the interaction of multiple genes and genetic mutations that change brain development. There is no single genetic “switch” that turns these disorders on or off. Genes are also not the only factor contributing to your mental well-being.

Environment

Your physical surroundings, environmental circumstances and the people around you can also significantly affect your outlook and emotional resilience. Seasonal affective disorder is one example of the environment’s effects on your mood. A toxic workplace is another. Poverty, crime rates and discrimination can all harm your mental health, too. 

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has become a considerable environmental stressor, influencing chronic stress, worsening rates of substance abuse and domestic violence and creating long-term trauma

Adverse Childhood Experiences

An adverse childhood experience is any event that occurs while you’re growing up that continues impacting you in adulthood. These include all types of trauma and neglect, such as parental substance abuse or a death in the family. Ongoing stress is equally unhealthy for children and adults, but children whose brains are still developing lack the emotional maturity necessary to help them make sense of what is happening to them.

The more adverse childhood experiences you have, the more likely you are to struggle with physical and mental health conditions later in life. Throughout your adulthood, ACEs’ ripple effects might include substance abuse, trauma, disordered eating or suicidal ideation.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Because of the mind-body connection, various other physical and psychological health conditions link to mental illness. For example, people with chronic conditions like diabetes have a higher risk of developing depression. You can also have more than one mental illness simultaneously, which treatment professionals call a dual diagnosis. Co-occurring disorders can magnify each others’ symptoms and make it challenging to determine which came first.  

Prioritizing Your Mental Well-Being

If you are struggling with your mental health, remember that you are not to blame for your illness. You also are never alone in your journey toward learning to manage your symptoms and lead a healthier, more fulfilling lifestyle. Mental illnesses like PTSD, depression, OCD and bipolar disorder do not get better on their own. While your symptoms may wax and wane, untreated mental health disorders can increase in severity and chip away at your quality of life as time goes by. 

While self-medicating with substance use may provide temporary relief from the negative self-talk, hyperarousal, listlessness or other potentially debilitating side effects of your condition, a worsening addiction will do nothing to improve your psychological or physical health. Successfully recovering from one or more mental illnesses requires focused counseling from professionals using evidence-based treatments.    

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