What factors affect our mental health? Understanding the social, physiological and environmental impact

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Our mental health is our level of psychological wellbeing. It encompasses our social, physiological and emotional states; someone who has good mental health may feel balanced in these areas of their life. This video from ‘Mental Health at Work’ helps us to understand what mental health is, what factors affect our mental health and the possible variances of our mental health states at any given time.

What factors affect our mental health?

Experiences of poor mental health are common; they affect around one in four people in any given year. Knowing what can affect our mental health can give us a better understanding when we, or someone we care about, is going through a hard time.

Factors that affect our mental health:

  • Environment
  • Experiences
  • Family and upbringing

The impact of our environment and experiences on our mental health

Our life experiences and biology influence how we think, feel and act towards different situations, challenges and opportunities throughout life. Experiences such as the way we are treated by others, our financial situation, our relationships, where we work, life changes and our physical health all affect our mental health. Of course, we will all at some point be faced with stressful situations, but it is our ability to overcome and manage these situations that can impact our mental health.

Social connections: Our relationships with other people are an important part of life. If we experience a conflict or a loss of one of our relationships, we are likely to feel emotions related to grief. Loneliness can have a detrimental impact on our mental health and can affect anyone – even when surrounded by others. Due to the current pandemic and subsequent social restrictions, it is harder to combat our feelings of loneliness. To read about more loneliness and how we can combat it during lockdown, click here.

Money and housing: Feeling anxious around our financial, housing or work situation can make our mental health worse. Being unemployed can dislodge our sense of purpose and may make it difficult to maintain self-confidence.

Having difficulties with landlords, house repairs or fulfilling mortgage payments can all have an impact on our mental wellbeing. Homelessness is extremely distressing and can make it even harder for someone with poor mental health to recover. For help and advice regarding housing, visit Shelter.

Changes in circumstance: Life is constantly evolving. Whether the change is sudden, or it is expected, negative or positive, we can still find it hard to cope. Moving home, changing school, ageing, having a baby and starting university or a new job, are all aspects of change that can affect our mental health. Self-care can help boost your mental health, to read more above how you can incorporate self-care into your daily routine click here.

Physical health: Health problems, long-term illness, life-threatening illness, medical appointments and tests can have a detrimental effect on our mental health and can make us feel anxious and depressed. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is a situation that has many people worrying for their health. To read more about how to care for yourself and others during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, click here.

Addiction and substance abuse: Smoking, gambling, drugs and alcohol misuse can contribute to poor mental health. In turn, poor mental health can lead to increased substance misuse and addictive behaviours. This can become a vicious cycle. For links to resources to help with addiction click here.

Neurochemistry: Is the study of chemicals, including neurotransmitters and other molecules that effect the function of neurons. Neurons are nerve cells that send and receive signals from the brain. The brains structure and neurochemistry can make it vulnerable to the development of a mental illness. For example if a person has experienced a traumatic brain injury, this may cause mental illness due to the damage caused to the brain.

The impact of our genes and upbringing on our mental health

Research suggests that mental health conditions, such as schizoaffective disorder and chronic depression, can be hereditary. However, mental illness may be passed on to family members for different reasons, not just genes. Environmental factors, like those mentioned above can contribute to the onset of a mental illness. If you have a family history of mental illness you have a higher chance of developing mental illness in these situations, but this doesn’t mean that you will develop one.

Upbringing and childhood trauma: The environment in which we grow up in shapes our brain development when we are young. Traumatic events can have a long lasting and negative impact on our mental health.

Genetics: Some research suggests that mental illness can run in families but there is currently no known gene that has been identified to reliably predict or diagnose mental health problems. Many people who experience mental health problems don’t have any relatives with the same condition.

This video from mind helps us to understand what mental health and mental health problems are and how they affect us.

The stigma surrounding mental health

It is important to remember that all these aspects affect each and everyone one of us differently. What one person finds stressful another may not. This video shows Juno’s journey with schizophrenia and how the stigma surrounding his diagnosis impacts on his relationships. Juno also highlights situations that he may find difficult, thankfully Juno has a support system in place, but his story highlights how vital support systems are, and how there is still a need for greater understanding and acceptance of mental health conditions:

Northern Healthcare specialise in supporting people with mental health diagnoses, learning disabilities and autism. We understand the importance of mental health and work with people living with complex needs to make a lifelong positive impact on their quality of life. Our team provide 24/7 support to help our residents navigate their way back to independent living , regain life skills and tackle day-to-day situations with confidence.

Getting help

If you are struggling with your mental health, it is important to reach out and start the conversation. If you need someone to talk to you can contact Samaritans by calling: 116 123 or you can email: [email protected]. Their helpline is free and open 24 hours a day.


Published 21st August 2020.

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