Do my life experiences affect my mental health?
It is important to look at the wide range of social, economic, family and emotional factors that interact with our genes and our biology.
These factors can make us more or less likely to develop a mental health problem. This is the case for common mental health problems like depression,anxiety as well as severe and chronic mental health problems like psychosis and bipolar disorder. The answers lie in the circumstances in which we are born, grow, live, work and age. These either enable us to thrive, or don’t.
So, beyond our genes, our mental health is fundamentally shaped by two sets of circumstances:
- The deeply personal experiences that define us. Our mental health can be influenced by our family, our relationships and how we see ourselves.
- The social circumstances we find ourselves in. This includes poverty, violence and employment.
This interaction of our biology and our circumstances is key to our health. And it can either protect our mental health or be a risk to it.
However, there are factors affecting this interaction that are not controlled by us as individuals and instead come from our environment. The conditions in which we are born, grow, live, work and age are shaped by our social and physical contexts and health services. These, in turn, are affected by the distribution of money, power and resources at global, national and local levels.
Among others, they include things such as income and wealth, family and household structure, social support and isolation, education, occupation, discrimination, neighbourhood conditions, and social institutions.
Mental health is complex
There is not, nor will there be, any biomedical test that can predict what combination of personal history and current circumstances determines a person’s unique state of wellbeing.