According to Mental Health America, studies have shown that, “we are able to prevent or mitigate the effects of mental illness and allow individuals to live fulfilling, productive lives in the community. From the influence of genetics and prenatal health all the way into early adulthood, we are learning more about the critical points in brain development and life experiences that increase the risk for or provide protection against the development of mental health disorders.”
Scientists believe some individuals have a genetic predisposition for mental illness. Although genes influence the development of mental illnesses, certain environmental conditions must also be present. For example, schizophrenia is considered highly heritable, yet studies have shown that with identical twins, there is only a 50 percent chance that both twins will have schizophrenia. This may suggest that environmental factors play a significant role in the development of mental health disorders.
Adverse childhood experiences, such as stress from poverty, abuse, neglect, parental death, witnessing violence, or even something as common as divorce, can increase children’s vulnerabilities to developing depression, anxiety, and antisocial behaviors that may continue into adulthood.
Damage from exposure to alcohol, illegal drugs, and tobacco; low birth weight; brain injury or oxygen deprivation; infection, poor nutrition, or exposure to toxins in the environment can also negatively affect the development of the fetus and newborn contributing to the onset of mental health disorders, according to the University of Washington, School of Social Work.
Community programs that help secure basic human needs; promote healthy relationships; increase a sense of safety and community inclusiveness; reduce adverse childhood experiences; and enhance good physical health, play an important part in preventing mental illness.