Risk Factors in Mental Health

Risk Factors in Mental Health

Ever wonder why some people might struggle with certain conditions? Or perhaps you have seen the term “risk factors” in many of our articles on different mental health disorders. When I begin working with clients, one of the first things I try to do is to educate them on risk factors. Risk factors are situations that act like puzzle pieces that, when put together, help us see why some people may face certain mental health challenges. This article breaks down the different kinds of risk factors and why they matter in mental wellbeing.



Some of the reasons people struggle with certain mental health conditions are linked their genes. For example, if your parents have or have had depression, you might be more likely (not destined) to struggle with it. This is because, you may have inherited a “genetic predisposition” to depression. Many disorders like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, substance abuse, tend to run in families. Another biological risk factor has to do with what happens in your brain. For example if your brain doesn’t produce enough of a certain chemical, called serotonin, it can affect your mood and well-being. Many chemicals in the brain have a significant effect on our mental health. In Africa we often don’t speak about family health / mental health history so, start being curious and intentional about yours.


Certain ways of thinking are associated with the risk of developing certain psychological disorders. For example, perfectionism,  is linked to anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Have a strong need to be perfect or do things perfectly all the time, has a negative effect on our mood and sense of self. This can increase our risk of developing these disorders. Another way of thinking is called rumination, where you allow negative thoughts or memories to run through your mind repeatedly. It affects your mood in a negative way and can also lead to depression and anxiety, amongst others.


Where we grow up and the things that happen to us can also impact our mental health. Being physically or sexually abused is linked to disorders like depression, anxiety, PTSD, substance use disorder. This is especially true if the abuse takes place in childhood. Work place conditions also affect a person’s mental wellbeing more than our society cares to admit. The types of relationships with have with family or friends, increase our risk of developing certain psychological issues. Relationships that are hostile, abusive, cold, defined by abandonment and rejection, etc., are detrimental to our mental health.


Believe it or not, the weather can affect your wellbeing. There is a typed of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), that is depression that takes place in the winter months in the year. Another example of an environmental risk factor is exposure to harmful chemicals in the environment. Some research studies have linked ADHD to lead poisoning, and others have linked it to RED 40, a popular food dye used in many drinks and sweets.


As we go through different life stages, we face various challenges that can affect our mental health. For many woman experiencing menopause, there are symptoms of depression and/or anxiety. Teenagers also experience mood swings due to hormonal changes at that stage.

Putting it all together

While you were reading this, you may have noticed that, some of the facts like teenage hormones, are not only developmental but also biological because hormones are chemicals in the body. This is why risk factors are compared to a puzzle. one piece often does not stand on its own. Rather, there is usually an interconnected relationship of risk factors that increase a person’s likelihood of developing a mental health condition. Understanding risk factors helps to reduce the stigma of mental health disorders. It also helps people more likely to get the help that they need, sometimes even before the situation becomes worse. Additionally, it helps us mental health professionals, determine a tailored approach to a person’s treatment. We use this information to educate people on protective factors in mental health.

Author: Petrina S. Adusei

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