A major misunderstanding of mental illness includes blaming the individual for being ‘crazy’ or in some way being at fault for having a mental illness. However, over the years, research has debunked this claim, and though new research is produced regularly, it can be concluded that mental illness is caused by one or a combination of biological, psychological or environmental factors. To give a more in-depth explanation, we will look at all three factors individually.
Mental illness can be correlated to an imbalance in neurotransmitters - chemicals that help nerve cells in the brain communicate with each other. An imbalance in these chemicals can prevent the brain from accurately processing incoming messages, leading to the symptoms of mental illness. Other causes may include poor nutrition, infections that lead to brain damage, brain injuries or defects, early trauma or lack of oxygen to the brain during birth or at the time of fetal brain development.
The biological aspect also focuses on an individual’s dispositional susceptibility to a mental illness. This is a tendency towards suffering from a particular mental illness that one’s parents or other family members battle with. However, it is important to note that this tendency does not always necessarily take the shape of a mental illness.
Researchers believe that complications in multiple genes, are what cause mental illnesses and are the reason why individuals may genetically inherit susceptibility to mental disorders, but do not necessarily develop it. Mental illness may also occur due to the interaction of genes and other contributing factors such as environmental stressors and psychological trauma that can trigger the mental illness in the person who has inherited susceptibility to it.
Psychological trauma such as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, neglect, and the loss of someone close to you are examples of the traumatic experiences that can have a negative impact on our mental health. Individuals can experience overwhelming feelings of distress to a point that the onset of mental illness is triggered. Examples of psychological causes include traumatic experiences of violence, verbal and sexual assault, irreplaceable and unbearable loss (parents or close loved ones), low self-esteem, bullying and emotional in-expressiveness.
Social and environmental factors are a person’s surroundings or events an individual has experienced which can cause stress. Stress can result from a plethora of factors such as work, financial trouble, the loss of a loved one, divorce, dysfunctional family life and childhood, change of schools, lack of social support, and substance abuse. These can contribute to and trigger mental health problems, especially in someone who is already at a risk of developing mental illness due to dispositional susceptibility. Unlike biological factors, environmental and social factors are rooted in our psyche and are usually treated through psychotherapy and counseling.
Other instances such as miscarriages, domestic violence, early marriages and reproduction, along with societal pressures for ideal body and weight, are gender specific social environmental factors that can consequently evolve into mental illnesses like depression and eating disorders in females.
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