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Mental Health Matters: What factors cause mental illness?

This week, we are answering a question from a reader from outside Kamloops.

Thanks to the on-line publication of Kamloops This Week, we get comments and questions from all over North America — even a couple from Europe.

So, what really does cause mental illness?

Knowing the answer to this question means we can prevent it, right?

Actually, it is not that easy.

There are a few issues experts agree contribute to the onset of mental illness and there are many about which they disagree.

We compiled a Top 10 list of causes for mental illness from various sources — our favourite is Harvard Medical School, but we left no stone unturned to put this list together.

• Biological factors: Physical health of the brain such as an imbalance of neurotransmitters that help brain cells to communicate with each other appears to be one cause for mental illness.

We know all physical illness contributes to anxiety, depression and other symptoms of mental illness.

• Genetics: Some mental illnesses appear to run in families.

There is still debate if the actual condition is rooted in a family’s genetics or if the susceptibility to mental illness is genetic.

Many researchers are looking to see if it is not the genes but the family’s powerful ability to teach poor coping strategies from an early age that is the reason mental illness runs in some families.

Most likely, it is a combination.

• Infections: Some infections have been linked to brain damage and this can lead to mental disorders.

High fevers can cause brain damage; people need to seek medical assistance if their fever is high or does not subside relatively quickly.

• Brain injuries: Some mental illnesses have developed after head injuries, including car accidents, sports injuries and abuse from family violence.

• Prenatal damage: Pregnant women have to be careful with diet, exercise, sleep, trauma and avoiding alcohol and drugs to give their unborn child the best mentally fit environment to develop.

• Toxins: Things like  lead can lead to mental-health issues.

There are many substances that appear to affect the central-nervous system, some of them affecting the lining of neurons that affect or distort the transmission of information between brain cells.

• Psychological factors: Traumas, important early losses, neglect, poor relationships, stresses, death or divorce can lead to serious mental illness.

The more that happen, and the more severe they are, the more likely mental illness becomes.

But, even one of these issues combined with a person’s inability to cope can have the same devastating impact.

• Social environmental factors: Death or divorce, dysfunctional family, poverty, low self-esteem or substance abuse can all lead to mental-health issues, especially when combined with other factors above.

• Substance abuse: We added this issue separate from toxins to differentiate between what we unknowingly ingest and what we do for recreation and fun.

There are no safe drugs, be they recreational or medicinal.

All chemicals have impacts on the body and every drug or medicine has its downside that must be measured against the benefits.

• Foods: This, of course, is under debate and we will not enter it.

We have added food to our list because it may contain toxins (pesticides and other chemicals) and much has been genetically altered.

Eat lots of clean fruits and vegetables, take fish oil supplements, eat brain-healthy foods and your mental health will benefit


We hope we have done justice to your question in a relatively shortened format. Send us your questions to and we will try to get you the answers you need.






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