You often hear that surrounding yourself with positive people rewards you with positive outcomes. Surprisingly, the same can be said for the places and spaces you occupy. From somewhere as personal as your bedroom to somewhere as public as the state you live in, the spaces you interact with often significantly impact your mental health.
There is a strong link between the environment and a host of mental health issues. Reading on will provide you with all the ins and outs of the connection between mental health and the environment, plus some tips on improving your relationship with the environment.
What Is the Relationship Between Mental Health and the Environment?
According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 8 people worldwide are currently living with a mental illness. While there is still much debate around mental health, one thing is for sure — these conditions are multi-causal. Genetics and environmental factors are primarily responsible for the onset of mental health disorders.
The relationship between the environment and mental health is far-reaching. Experts in the mental illness field refer to the environment as everything around you that is not inherited genetics. Environmental factors can be split up into physical and social environmental factors.
While you may be more familiar with the social environmental factors, the physical factors can become entangled in your life, causing a vicious cycle that contributes to poor mental health.
What Are Social Environmental Factors?
Psychosocial environmental factors are commonly associated with mental health disorders. They are often related to the relationships between people. Social environmental factors can include:
- A lack of emotional support;
- Abuse, be it physical, sexual or emotional;
- Stigma, such as sexism, racism, homophobia, etc.
- Toxic relationships, either romantic, familial or platonic;
- Lack of meaning or purpose in spiritual, work or personal life;
- Poor self-esteem and lack of self-care.
- Lack of safety and security, physically or emotionally
The effects of social factors on mental health are well-known and widely studied but often go hand in hand with physical factors in negatively affecting your mental health.
What Are Physical Environmental Factors?
From cluttered desks to lousy weather, physical environmental factors are the ‘hard’ factors affecting mental health. They often occur alongside social factors but can also arise independently. Some physical environmental factors affecting mental health are:
- Extreme weather conditions, i.e., perpetually raining or sweltering heat;
- Substance abuse, smoking and drinking;
- Sleep deprivation;
- Chaotic surroundings, such as noise pollution or large crowds;
- Hazardous spaces, including messy rooms, lack of ventilation or inaccessible architecture.
The things you smell, see, hear, ingest and breathe can affect your mood and have lasting consequences on your mental health.
How Does the Environment Affect Your Mental Health?
Your parents may have been onto something when they told you to open the curtains in your bedroom during the holidays. Your everyday surroundings can have a significant impact on your mental health — be it how much light enters the room, how cluttered your hallway is or even how many times a day you visit the smoker’s corner.
The environmental effects on mental health can have lasting, tangible consequences. Through his studies, Roger Ulrich, a Chalmers University of Technology researcher, found that patients recovering from surgery healed faster in a room with a view of trees than those with a view of a brick wall. The variance in cortisol production between patients led to this discrepancy.
Various studies are unpacking how the environment affects mental health. Just as the Journal of Urban Health suggests, high-rise living negatively affects the mental well-being of women and children.
Scientists have shown that certain environmental factors affect the body’s hormone production, circadian rhythm, neurotransmission and executive functioning. Unfortunately, these changes often go unnoticed — you may not even realize how your environment affects you.
Is Changing the Impact of the Environment on Your Mental Health Possible?
There are many ways of controlling how the physical environment influences and shapes your well-being for the better.
Start by connecting your mental and emotional state and what environmental factors are triggering those feelings. If you work from home, you may find that a messy desk leads you to procrastinate more, increasing feelings of anxiety. Whatever it is, you need to work on identifying the cause and figuring out whether you have enough control to change it.
You can start as small as you like. You would be surprised at how little change makes such a massive difference to your mental health.
- Get outside and breathe the fresh air (harsh pollutants can affect sleep).
- Change your space, whether painting your walls bright or decorating a bookshelf.
- Organize and clear out your space in a way that works for you.
- Incorporate more light or plants into your home or office.
- Cut down on your drinking and smoking.
Another great way of improving the relationship between the environment and your mental health is to care for the environment around you. The United Nations Environment Program urges people to give back to their communities and the environment in small ways. By focusing your attention, care and empathy on others, you can cultivate gratitude for your own circumstances.
While changing certain things, such as your job or neighborhood, may not be possible at the moment, even the smallest changes could boost your mental health and may even prevent the onset of mental disorders.
What To Remember About Environmental Factors and Mental Health
Almost all people have struggled with varying degrees of mental health issues, but it is essential to keep in mind that your situation can get better. Whether you are struggling with depression or just in a slump, environmental factors will always shape your mental health. Fortunately for you and everyone else, you can harness these factors to improve your overall mental well-being.