Most mental illnesses don’t have a single cause. Instead they have a variety of causes, called risk factors. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop a mental health condition. Sometimes, mental illness develops gradually. Other times, it doesn’t appear until a stressful event triggers it.
There are many risk factors and triggers, but here are a few examples:
- Genetics. Mental illness often runs in the family.
- Environment. Living in a stressful environment can strain your mental health. Things like living in poverty or having an abusive family put a lot of stress on your brain and often trigger mental health concerns.
- Stressful events: like losing a loved one, or being in a car accident.
- Childhood trauma. Even if you’re no longer in a stressful environment, things that happened to you as a child can have an impact later in life. Complex PTSD is one particularly common mental health condition among people who grew up in abusive or neglectful environments.
- Negative thoughts. Constantly putting yourself down or expecting the worst can get you stuck in a cycle of depression or anxiety.
- Unhealthy habits: like not getting enough sleep, or not eating.
- Drugs and alcohol: Abusing drugs and alcohol can be bad for your mental health. It can also make it harder to recover from mental illness.
- Brain chemistry. Mental illness often involves an imbalance of natural chemicals in your brain and your body.
These risk factors don’t just affect who will develop a mental illness in the first place. They also affect how severe their symptoms will be, and when they will experience those symptoms.