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What Causes Mental Illness?

mental illness

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There are several theories relating to why a person develops a mental illness. Here we discuss some common causes of mental disorders and how to help someone suffering from these conditions.

What is Mental Illness?

A mental illness is characterised by a significant disturbance in a person’s cognition, emotional regulation, and behaviour. It is a general term used to describe a group of mental illnesses that may include symptoms that impact daily living.

Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, drug and alcohol abuse, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

1 in every 5 Australians, or 20% of the overall population, suffers from a mental disorder at some point in their life. Although the exact cause is unknown, these numbers only prove that several factors contribute to the development of these conditions.

5 Risk Factors of Mental Illness

Most mental health conditions do not have a single cause. They have a variety of causes, which are called risk factors. And the more you have of these, the more likely you are to develop a mental disorder.

One important thing to consider is some mental illness develops over time. In other cases, the symptoms do not appear until a traumatic or stressful event triggers them.

Here are a few risk factors that cause mental illness.


Research suggests that some mental disorders may run in families. For example, the schizophrenia that is present in parents may be acquired by their children as they grow up.

Although genes may influence the development of mental ill-health, researchers have not yet identified the specific genes that cause this transfer.

Childhood trauma

Early adverse life experiences such as trauma or a history of abuse as a child are risk factors for developing a mental disorder.

Some studies show that adverse childhood experiences (e.g. parental loss or separation, parental illness, etc.) can significantly affect a child’s mental and physical health.

Even if they are no longer in the same situation, things that happened to them as a child can have an impact later in life.


Exposure to or living in a stressful environment can make a person vulnerable to developing mental illness. Things like living in poverty and having unhealthy family relationships can put a lot of stress on the brain, which triggers mental ill-health.

Other social and economic pressures contributing to poor mental health include limited financial means, lack of education, housing quality, and gender inequality.

Unhealthy habits

Drug and alcohol abuse can trigger poor mental health. These unhealthy habits can also make it harder for anyone to recover from a mental health problem.

Brain chemistry

The development of some mental health conditions involves an imbalance of natural chemicals in the brain and the body.

Note that the risk factors mentioned do not just affect who will develop a mental disorder. These can also affect the severity of these symptoms and the frequency.

Without intervention, mental ill-health can cause problems in everyday life, such as school, work, or relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications, therapy, and mental health first aid.

Learn Mental Health First Aid

Improve your own mental health and help others who may be experiencing mental illness by knowing MHFA or mental health first aid.

MHFA is a course or program that teaches participants to recognise, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use disorders. This course is designed to boost awareness of mental health disorders, fight the stigma, and encourage open discussion on this topic.

If you are interested in an MHFA course, visit our website or get in touch with our team. Learn mental health first aid today and save lives tomorrow.

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