New Dimensions Day Treatment Centers

Nine Risk Factors for Mental Illness

Jan 19, 2023 | Mental Health, Trauma

Mental illness affects nearly one in five people at some point in their lives. Even after a diagnosis, many patients continue to suffer from poor treatment outcomes and low quality of life. This is particularly true for patients who have multiple risk factors or comorbid conditions that make their mental health even more complicated. Research suggests there are 10 primary risk factors that predispose an individual toward developing a mental illness.

1. Genetics

The risk of developing a mental illness is 15 to 35 percent higher for children with parents who were diagnosed with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It is important to remember that genes are not destiny. Your genes cannot make you become ill; they only influence how likely it is that you will get sick.

According to NIMH, your genetic makeup determines how your brain develops and makes cells function normally. If there are any problems in this process, it may affect how well you cope with stressors and life challenges, which increases the risk of developing depression or anxiety disorders later in life.

Researchers found that people who have certain versions of certain genes tend not to be depressed when faced with difficult situations, such as dealing with daily hassles like long commutes or financial problems, compared with those who don’t have these variants.

2. Stress

Stress is one of the most common risk factors for mental illness. It can both cause mental illness and make existing mental health conditions worse. When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones that may increase your blood pressure and heart rate, which can eventually lead to serious health problems. 

Stress can also affect your immune system, making you more susceptible to illnesses such as the flu or cold. Stress comes from many sources, such as work relationships, family relationships, financial issues, and physical injuries or illnesses. 

When someone experiences prolonged stressors, it’s called chronic stress. Chronic stress can lead to increased anxiety and depression symptoms.  

3. Social Media Use

Social media is linked to increased anxiety and depression in young people specifically. In fact, social media may even be more harmful than previously thought. A recent study found that excessive social media use can cause some young people to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety, which can lead to mental illness later in life.

Some experts believe that the feeling of isolation caused by spending too much time on your phone or computer can increase feelings of anxiety or depression, especially for teens who already struggle with mental health issues. Other studies show that young people who engage with their devices for hours every day are more likely than others to experience symptoms of depression or hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

It’s important for parents and teachers alike to teach children about safe usage habits when it comes to digital distractions such as TV shows, video games, and social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. There are ways parents can help their kids develop healthy habits around screen time at home, including setting limits on how many hours per week they spend online, encouraging face-to-face interactions instead, avoiding streaming services like Netflix during bedtime hours so kids get enough sleep, and limiting access during homework time so they don’t feel overwhelmed by work demands.

4. Alcohol and Drug Use

The research on alcohol and drug use in young people is clear: the more you use, the higher your risk of developing a mental illness. For example, teenagers who drink are at greater risk for depression and anxiety than those who don’t drink; among adults with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, those who have problems with alcohol or other drugs are more likely to experience relapses and therefore, hospitalizations. The act of using drugs and alcohol can bring on a mental illness in some people, while in others, it may actually be an early sign of a pre-existing condition emerging. 

5. Sexual Trauma

In a recent study, researchers found that sexual trauma may lead to psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. The study included more than 4,000 people who were followed for approximately five years. It found that those who were sexually abused in childhood or early adolescence were more likely to suffer from these conditions than those who weren’t victimized in this way.

6. War Trauma

War is a particularly stressful environment that can trigger mental illness. Soldiers are exposed to significant trauma, including psychological and physical stress that can lead to issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression.

7. Poverty

The poverty-related stress, isolation, and lack of access to resources can lead to mental illness. When you have a mental illness, it’s often difficult to find a job or receive the care you need. And if you are living in poverty when your illness begins, it may be even harder for you to get out of it later on.

When people with mental illnesses who live in poverty become homeless, these problems inevitably get worse because they no longer have access to shelter or food. Without help from others, and sometimes even with help, these individuals don’t have many options for escaping their situation. This can make them feel trapped by their circumstances and hopeless about the future, which leads to decreased mental health.

8. Social Isolation

Social isolation is the risk factor most closely associated with mental illness. Social isolation can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. It’s caused by a lack of social support, financial problems, and/or a lack of social activities in your life.

9. Chronic Illness or Chronic Pain

Chronic illness or chronic pain in an individual or in family members can lead to stress, which can affect mental health. For example, a person with arthritis may be unable to work full-time and loses income as a result. If the affected person provides for others financially, this can cause financial problems for themselves as well as their families.

Chronic conditions such as cancer and diabetes are often managed by medications that help control symptoms but cause unpleasant side effects, such as nausea, which further disrupt daily life. These drugs may also interact with other medications that were prescribed by a doctor. This could result in interactions that produce harmful effects on the body’s organs. The psychological effects of chronic illnesses include depression, anxiety, and sleep problems, which make it difficult for people living with these conditions to cope effectively with stressful situations at home or work.

The Takeaway

Mental illness can happen to anyone at any time, and it’s important for everyone to learn about the most common risk factors so they can get help if they need it. You can help prevent mental illness by recognizing the warning signs of depression and other mood disorders in yourself or your family members, getting help when needed, and looking after your own physical health by eating well, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep.

As the data shows, there are many different factors that can contribute to mental illness. It’s important to understand what risk factors you may have and how they might impact your mental health. If you know someone in your life who experiences any of these symptoms or risk factors, encourage them to seek help from a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.

Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit to learn more.