Causes of Psychological Disorders


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Psychological disorders are a major public health problem based on their prevalence. The reality has necessitated research in the efforts to identify the factors that cause the different psychological problems and develop effective interventions. Research identifies three categories of factor that cause mental health problems, environmental, social, and genetic factors. The environmental factors are the aspects within the individual’s surroundings. In fact, the social factors are the social and cultural structures and system. On the other hand, the genetic factors are the hereditary elements passed from one person to another through the genes. However, the factors do not act in isolation, but as interplay, which causes different mental disorders.


Environmental, Social, and Genetic Causes of Psychological Disorders


Mental health problems are among the most common complications affecting the society today. As a result, research has been carried out in the efforts to establish the causes of these disorders, although there is still inadequate agreement on what the precise causes are. Various theories and debates have come up in the efforts to establish the factors that initiate the development of the disorders. In addressing psychological disorders, it is necessary to establish the causes since the effectiveness of interventions might depend on it. Psychological disorders have complex causes, mostly interplay of environment, social and genetic (biological factors) (Heim & Binder, 2012). There are different risk factors that have been associated with the threat of developing mental disorders. Therefore, the role played by each factor depends on the particular mental disorder as well as the individual affected; hence, on an individual basis, it is difficult to identify the precise factor behind the disorder.

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Environmental Factors

Various factors within the environment of an individual can play a role in the development of a mental disorder. Research indicates that environmental factors that play a role in the development of mental health disorders are those that are not hereditary (Schmidt, 2007). However, there is some point of intersection between the social and environmental factors as they play out in the development of mental health problems. To differentiate, the environmental factors within the context of psychological disorders relate to the pollutants, infectious agents, and other exogenous elements, which have an impact on the physical environment of the person and negatively affect their mental health stability. The environmental factors also include illicit and pharmaceutical drugs, injuries, as well as nutritional deficiencies. There are also some psychosocial conditions, which have been associated with perceptions of the individual with the physical as well as the social world.

Individuals are at the risk of suffering mental health disorders as a result of exposure to toxins, stressful life events, and poor nutrition among others. People at risk of mental health problems may experience psychological disorders because of being in an unstable environment or an environment that places them at risk. Any kind of situation, including physical or sexual abuse, war, or breakup of relationships can result in mental distress ensuing in mental health problems such as depressive or anxiety disorders. Psychosocial stress has been greatly associated with mental health problems in the affected individuals. Some of the events trigger primal responses, like feelings of danger or loss that can cause the person to suffer from mental health problems (Heim & Binder, 2012). Feelings of complete loss can cause depressive disorders and those of complete danger can cause anxiety disorders. In addition, it is possible for the environmental factors to interact with genetic factors to initiate mental health problems to already vulnerable individuals.

Social Factors

Research is still undergoing on the social factors that play a role in the development of psychological disorders. However, it is agreed that the general social conditions as well as societal changes can have an influence on the development of specific mental disorders such as personality disorders. Social psychiatry, a field of study that greatly looks at the social situations and systems, which have an influence on psychological health, focus on the impact of social systems in various mental health problems (Schmidt, 2007). Some of the social factors that are largely studied include socio-economic status of the individual, culture, gender, type of society, and social changes. For instance, in the modern American society, there is a fast breakdown of social norms resulting in increasing social changes. As a result, there is increasing reduction in social structures as well as the restrictions that are placed on the individual members of society. As such, the result is increased risk of mental health problems, including personality disorder among others.

Other social factors are the nature of the culture and the society within which the disease occurs and the diagnosis made. Some behaviors are accepted in some social structures while in others they are not recognized. Some behaviors will be considered mental health issues in some societies and cultures. The working environment of an individual can also cause a lot of stress, thus leading to mental problems such as depression (Sauter, Murphy & Hurrell, 1990). Cultural and social expectations can lead a person into suffering mental health challenges, especially if one is unable to meet the expectations. For instance, eating disorder can develop in a person who lives in a society where thinness is associated with beauty. Besides, there are social stressors that can cause mental health problems to already vulnerable individuals. Some of these factors include divorce or death, dysfunctional family life, a life of poverty, loneliness and anger, low self-esteem, discrimination, and change in life circumstances such as a school or job. In essence, neglect or substance abuse by a parent or caregiver can trigger mental disorders in their children.

Genetic Factors

It has been revealed in research that there are some mental disorders that are inherited (Schmidt, 2007). In fact, individuals in some families may be susceptible to psychological disorders based on their genes. A person whose family has a history of a mental health disorder is at risk of inheriting the faulty gene and hence become vulnerable to the disorder. The genes are the vehicles through which vulnerability is passed from one person to another. Various experts have revealed that most psychological disorders are related to abnormalities in most genes instead of only one or a few. The interaction of the genes with the person’s environment is what causes the development of the mental disorder, although this interaction differs from one person to another. The reality is that someone might inherit a fault gene but fail to develop a mental health disorder based on the uniqueness of their environment.

Gene by Environment Interactions

Experts have argued that in most cases, no single factor is responsible for the development of mental health problems, but instead, the process is an interplay of environmental and biological factors (Schmidt, 2007). Thus, the elements that have been developed do not operate in isolation to result in psychological disorder. Genetic and environment interactions describe an occurrence by which some variants in genes influence the effect of environmental risk factors. Nonetheless, in most cases, environmental factors lead to an epigenetic change where modification in chemicals within the brain affects the expression of genes. Such a process makes it hard to differentiate the environmental from genetic factors, which play a role in the development of psychological disorders. The increase in interest in epigenetics has led the psychiatric studies to put more emphasis on biochemical means through which environmental elements impact on genetic expression as well as the development of mental disorders. Twin studies have revealed the role played by the interplay of environment and genetic factors in the development and trajectory of mental disorder.

Nonetheless, it remains hard to establish the genes that play a role in the development of particular mental disorders, as well as to inaugurate the specific environmental conditions under which there is an emergence of psychopathology based on the challenging nature of mental disorders. Most illnesses, including the normal physiological problems such as hypertension as well as cognitive capabilities like intelligence, possibly emanate from a blend of actions by multiple genes (Tsuang et al., 2004). However, in mental health problems, it is very hard to establish the actual gene that plays out with the environmental factors, which result in a mental health problem. Additionally, environmental and genetic factors interact in a manner that is highly complex to have an influence on the phenotype. Therefore, the reality is that environmental factors and individual genes have an effect only through interactions with other environmental factors and genes. In essence, there is no single nature versus nurture that exists, but only a complex interaction of the two factors.

The Interplay in Schizophrenia and Depression

In fact, through the case of Schizophrenia and depression, it is possible to develop a better understanding of this important interplay. For a long time, schizophrenia has been viewed as having a strong genetic predisposition. There is a report of concordance rate of schizophrenia in twin studies, at 45 to 60 percent for identical (monozygotic) twins, and 10 to 15 percent of fraternal (dizygotic) twins (Tsuang et al., 2004). The results reveal that as opposed to the role played by genes in the development of the mental disorder, there is an important environmental role in the process of developing the disorder. For instance, exposure to famine during pregnancy has been revealed to put one at risk of developing schizophrenia in life. Regardless, determining the actual interaction between the two variables has not been completely established in research.

Research on depression is another mental disorder that has been revealed to be triggered by the interplay between environmental and genetic factors. It is estimated that in the development of depression, genetic factors play a role of between 30 and 40 percent (Tsuang et al., 2004). However, many environmental factors play out in the development of the disorder. Indeed, such factors include early life stressors, like sexual abuse during childhood, loss of a parent, and neglect (Joukamaa et al 2001). These factors have been revealed to play a role in the development of depressive disorders later in life. A lot of attention has been given to the impact of the stressors as influenced by various genes, showing the role played by the interplay of the two factors.


The development of mental health disorders results from different factors, which do not play a role on their own, but as interplay. The importance of the identification of the causal factors in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders has led to the increased interest in the causal factors. The social, environmental, and genetic factors play out in the development of the disorders. While identifying the actual factor is challenging due to the complexity of the disorders, increasing research evidence indicates that is no single factor, which can trigger the development of the disorder. On the contrary, the environmental and genetic factors work together in that an individual with genetic vulnerability will develop a disorder by being in an environment where there are risk factors.

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