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What are Mental Health Risk Factors?

Many people have parents or ancestors with mental health disorders. That means they may have some genetics within them that could lead to similar mental health disorders. Just because they have the genetics, however, does not mean they will automatically develop a mental health problem.

Risk factors are events or situations that may put a person at risk for developing a mental health disorder. Categories of risk factors usually fall into biological, familial, psychological and social issues.

There are many risk factors. We live for many years, giving us the opportunity to experience a considerable number of happy times, along with tragedies, heart breaks, traumas, addictions and so on.

These types of experiences can influence a person’s mental health.

Negative Treatment as a Child

The experiences someone has throughout their childhood and adolescent years will assist in forming ideals, goals, and even mental health. Experiences such as being abused physically, psychologically or sexually have been shown to create mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, and even multiple personality disorders.

Children have not yet learned how to appropriately cope with negative treatment. Therefore, they find a way that works for them at the time. Repressing or suppressing memories is common. Later in life, when the memories of negative treatment reappear, a mental health disorder may quickly follow.


Losing a parent, sibling or other close relative can be devastating. Without the proper coping skills, a person may trigger symptoms of depression or anxiety.

Plane crashes, car accidents, and natural disasters are traumatic events that can also cause mental health disorders. Any type of traumatic event can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Parent Behaviors

Parents contribute genes to their children. Some of these genes can be psychological. Just as important as this, is the environment they provide for their children. Environment contributes to whether a person will develop mental health disorders also.

If parents use drugs, smoke or drink alcohol to excess, their children may also abuse substances. If both parents constantly fight and get into physical altercations in front of their children, this may trigger mental health issues in the child. Domestic abuse has a profound effect on children who witness it.

A mental health disorder can arise if parents refuse to work and this decision leaves the family in poverty. Poverty has been proven to have negative impacts on many people. This may be due to having to live in neighborhoods that are not as safe, malnourishment, and not being able to access necessary resources.

Community Culture

A person can develop depression and anxiety if they live in a neighborhood with gang violence, murders and other dangerous factors. Their anxiety may even lead to panic disorder.

If a person must walk to and from work each day, passing by drug deals, robberies or assaults taking place, that person can easily develop anxiety or fear over what they will encounter each day.

Just the opposite is true also. When someone grows up privileged, very rich or spoiled, and they only associate with other privileged members of society, they have the potential to develop narcissism or other personality disorders.


Sleep is one of the most important needs for the human body. Without sleep, the body and the brain cannot restore the parts that need healing.

Lack of good sleep has been linked to obesity, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, attention deficit disorders and many other mental health disorders.

When a person doesn’t get the proper rest each night, they wake up tired. Being tired can lead to a frustrated and irritated attitude. This attitude can lead to broken relationships, which can then lead to sadness and hurt.

Adults need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night while children and adolescents can benefit most from nine to ten hours.

Prescription Medications

It’s easy for a person to think taking prescription medications is okay. The doctor prescribed them. However, some prescription medications have dangerous side effects that can trigger a mental health disorder.

Pain medication has addictive qualities. While they may help with the pain, they can also trick the brain into thinking the medication is necessary to survive. This can then lead a person to abuse the medication to satisfy the brain’s requests.

By reading the side effects of depression or anxiety medicines, a person can learn if there will be mental health disorder triggers. For example, some anti-depressants have a warning that says, “may cause anxiety” or “may cause suicidal thoughts”.


A person who is unemployed faces many challenges. One of them is the possibility they may develop a mental health disorder. Not being able to obtain a job can reduce self-esteem and lead to depression. It can also trigger anxiety or panic when not finding a job leads to losing residence or everyday survival necessities.

Even when employed, the culture of the workplace can impact a person’s mental health. If someone is working in a negative environment, they can begin to feel depressed and hopeless.

A negative environment may include a boss who is mean and yells at the employees. It may also include co-workers who have negative personalities that influence the moods of everyone else.

It may also mean a person must work long hours for little pay and little time with family. These examples can trigger mental health problems.

The best way to avoid negative risk factors is to build up many positive protective factors. Protective factors are the skills, resources, education, support, and coping tools a person learns and exercises throughout their lifetime.

These personal strengths can help a person overcome mental health barriers or risks associated with mental health disorders. They will help a person learn to adapt to life situations, negative and positive, and make them psychologically resilient.

Building protective factors to reduce risk factors can be done in a variety of ways. One of the best is to seek family counseling. It is so important to strengthen the entire family to promote positive mental health.

Other ways to build protective factors include individual counseling, group therapy, community support programs, neighborhood improvement activities and career counseling.

By building up the positives in a person’s life, they have the best chance at avoiding risk factors that can trigger a mental health disorder.