What Causes Mental Illness?
Mental illnesses are thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors:
Inherited traits. Mental illness is more common in people whose blood relatives also have a mental illness. Certain genes may increase your risk of developing a mental illness, and your life situation may trigger it.
Environmental exposures before birth. Exposure to environmental stressors, inflammatory conditions, toxins, alcohol or drugs while in the womb can sometimes be linked to mental illness.
Brain chemistry. Neurotransmitters are naturally occurring brain chemicals that carry signals to other parts of your brain and body. When the neural networks involving these chemicals are impaired, the function of nerve receptors and nerve systems change, leading to depression.
What Are The Risk Factors?
Certain factors may increase your risk of developing mental health problems, including:
Having a blood relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a mental illness
Stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one's death or a divorce
An ongoing (chronic) medical condition, such as diabetes
Brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head
Traumatic experiences, such as military combat or being assaulted
Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
Being abused or neglected as a child
Having few friends or few healthy relationships
A previous mental illness
Mental illness is common. About 1 in 5 adults has a mental illness in any given year. Mental illness can begin at any age, from childhood through later adult years, but most begin earlier in life.
The effects of mental illness can be temporary or long lasting. You also can have more than one mental health disorder at the same time. For example, you may have depression and a substance use disorder.
How Can You Prevent Mental Illness?
There's no sure way to prevent mental illness. However, if you have a mental illness, taking steps to control stress, to increase your resilience and to boost low self-esteem may help keep your symptoms under control. Follow these steps:
Pay attention to warning signs. Work with your doctor or therapist to learn what might trigger your symptoms. Make a plan so that you know what to do if symptoms return. Contact your doctor or therapist if you notice any changes in symptoms or how you feel. Consider involving family members or friends to watch for warning signs.
Get routine medical care. Don't neglect checkups or skip visits to your health care provider, especially if you aren't feeling well. Finding a good talk therapist or counselor to work with is essential.
Get help when you need it. Mental health conditions can be harder to treat if you wait until symptoms get bad. Long-term maintenance treatment also may help prevent a relapse of symptoms.
Take good care of yourself. Sufficient sleep, healthy eating and regular physical activity are important. Try to maintain a regular schedule. Talk to your health care provider if you have trouble sleeping or if you have questions about diet and physical activity.
What’s The Risk Of Forgoing Treatment?
Untreated mental illness can cause severe emotional, behavioral and physical health problems. Complications sometimes linked to mental illness include:
Unhappiness and decreased enjoyment of life
Problems with tobacco, alcohol and other drugs
Missed work or school, or other problems related to work or school
Legal and financial problems
Poverty and homelessness
Self-harm and harm to others, including suicide or homicide
Weakened immune system, so your body has a hard time resisting infections
Heart disease and other medical conditions