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Mental Health and Psychological Well-Being: The Risk Factors

Mental health is a vitally important part of a person’s life. It is a prerequisite for finding fulfilment, maintaining positive relationships, working, studying, pursuing leisure interests, and making rational everyday decisions. Mental health can also be called psychological well-being. Disturbances in this arena can have a negative impact on one’s capacity to make decisions and the choices one makes. Mental health issues can cause functional problems not just for the individuals struggling with them but also with their families and communities.

Mental health is hard to define. One workable definition is to say that it is that state of well-being that allows an individual to realise his or her ability to cope with normal life stresses, work productively, and contribute to his or her community. One great advantage of this definition is that it makes it clear that mental well-being is influenced by both inner and outer factors. It is not only a matter of individual characteristics. Socioeconomic circumstances and environmental factors play a role in mental health as well.

Individual Factors

Every person has the ability to manage his or her feelings and interact with others. This ability can be separated into ’emotional intelligence’ and ‘social intelligence.’ These skill sets rely on both innate abilities and learned skills. Genetic and biological factors can inhibit both an individual’s innate abilities and their capacity for self-improvement. Examples include chromosomal issues like Down’s syndrome and disabilities caused by oxygen deprivation or prenatal alcohol exposure.

“Substance abuse can also greatly inhibit one’s emotional and social intelligence,” says a member of the Road to Recovery Group Plymouth.

Social and Economic Factors

Individuals capacities are strongly influenced by both their immediate social circle and their socio-economic circumstances. Positive engagement with friends, family members, and coworkers are important. Individuals also need the opportunity to receive an education and earn a living for themselves. These last two points are particularly related to a person’s socio-economic status. Limited or lost opportunities to work and learn can have a profound effect on mental health.

Environmental Factors

The mental health status of both communities and the individuals within it are influenced by the greater environment in which they exist. Social, cultural, political, and geographic factors can influence mental health. The availability of vital services and commodities (including elements as diverse as access to clean water and the fair rule of law) can strongly influence mental health issues. Cultural beliefs can have an effect. So too can national-level policies. ‘Outside’ factors can also play a role. The late global financial crisis, for instance, has had significant negative mental health impacts. Examples would include greater instances of alcohol abuse and increased suicide rates. Other structural, environmental factors that can harm individuals’ mental well-being include discrimination, war, and gender inequality.

It must be noted that none of these influences works in a vacuum. They interact with each other dynamically, and each individual’s mental health will depend on exactly how the relevant factors work on him or her. To give an example, one individual’s sense of self-worth might be intimately tied to the economic security of his or her household. That economic security, in turn, might depend on the nation’s political stability, economic strength, and social equality.

Promoting And Protecting Mental Health

Because of the vast and interrelated field of risks threatening mental health, it needs to be protected by diverse, broad-based responses. Useful high-level strategies for fostering mental health include:

* Nurturing key mental health attributes (like self-esteem and resilience) in children.
* Early recognition and treatment of emotional and behavioural issues.
* Promoting positive interaction within and between different social groups.
* Fostering living and working conditions favourable to healthy psychosocial development (especially for vulnerable individuals).
* Broad-based protection for the poor.
* Legislating and campaigning to prevent discrimination.
* Publicizing and advocating for the rights, opportunities, and needs of individuals who have mental disorders.

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