Protective Factors in Mental Health

Protective Factors in Mental Health

Protective factors in mental health can be understood as the opposite of risk factors. Whereas risk factors increase your chances of developing a mental health disorder, protective factors (PFs) decrease these chances.  PFs in mental health act like a shield that can block or lower the risk of damage to a person’s mental health.

Biological

Many people think that physical health and mental health are two separate things. But they are so deeply intertwined that, the state of your physical health can affect your mental heath and vice versa. Your diet and nutrition can significantly impact your mental health. For example consuming high amounts of sugar, caffeine, fatty and processed foods increase your risk of developing anxiety and depression or worsening their symptoms. So eating a balanced healthy diet and avoiding an unhealthy diet can help make you more resistant to these and other mental health conditions, and their symptoms. Exercise is also important. As you exercise, different chemicals and processes become present in your body. These help with mood boosting and clearer thinking.

Psychological

Healthy ways of thinking go a long way to reduce a person’s risk of developing a psychological disorder. An example of such healthy thinking is affirmations. Affirmations enable us to tap into our strengths even in challenging situations. A person might say, “I have to get a A on this test. If I don’t I don’t know what I will do with myself. I will be a failure.” A better and healthy way of thinking about the same is, “I believe I will get an A on this exam I studied for. Even if I don’t, my future remains bright because I work hard”. Practicing gratitude and thinking about the things one is grateful for is also another healthy way of thinking that helps put us in a healthy mental state.

Social

Healthy or supportive relationships with family, friends, and/or larger communities tends to be a strong protective factor in mental health. In the field of psychology it is often referred to as social support. Supportive relationships provide a sense of belonging, a safety net during difficult times. They may also provide us with a space to express our emotions safely. As a therapist, one of the things that keeps me sane, is having friends a family whom I can be vulnerable with, and who support me unconditionally. I also see how such relationships have been helpful for a number of my clients, in their own mental health journeys.

Environmental

The type of environments we find ourselves in can impact our mental health significantly. Neighborhoods that are free from threat of violence and are peaceful, are good for our mental health. Healthy school and work environments are also important. Research on depression and anxiety have shown that, spending time in nature versus always being in a busy city, can be good for a person’s mental health. There has also been an interesting finding that air pollution has been linked to disorders like depression and others. Thus living in environments that are free from significant air pollution, can also be one of the  protective factors in mental health.

Putting It All Together

PFs in mental health do not guarantee that a person will not face challenges in life. However, they go a long way to reduce the impact of these challenges, and reduce the risk of developing mental health disorders. They also help reduce the impact of major life challenges on an individuals long term wellbeing. Even if a person already has a mental health disorder, protective factors help to reduce the severity of the symptoms, and help with recovery. So knowing this, you can begin to be intentional about your own mental health.

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