What Causes Mental Health Problems?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Mark Hrymoc, M.D.

There are several factors to consider when evaluating what causes mental health problems. Mental health problems can arise from genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. These elements interact in complex ways, with life experiences such as trauma, stress, and societal pressures playing significant roles. Understanding this multifaceted nature is crucial for effective prevention and treatment strategies.

Understanding what causes mental health problems can help people approach the treatment needed. Mental health issues can profoundly impact individuals’ lives, yet their origins often remain misunderstood, leading to ineffective treatment approaches and persistent stigma.

Without a clear understanding of the underlying causes, efforts to address these conditions may only scratch the surface, leaving root issues unresolved and individuals struggling in silence. The stigma surrounding mental health further exacerbates the situation, making it difficult for those affected to seek help.

By delving into the causes of mental health problems, including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, we can develop targeted treatments that address these issues at their core. This knowledge not only aids in crafting more effective interventions but also plays a crucial role in dismantling the stigma, encouraging a more compassionate and informed approach to mental health care.

This article explores what causes mental health problems and outlines several factors to consider.

What Causes Mental Health Problems?

Understanding the causes of mental health problems is essential for developing effective treatment plans that address the root causes, leading to more sustainable recovery outcomes.

This knowledge also contributes to reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues by emphasizing that these conditions often result from complex interactions between genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Additionally, grasping the causes aids in guiding prevention strategies, enabling individuals and communities to implement measures that mitigate the risk of developing mental health problems.

It also supports research efforts to discover new and innovative treatment and prevention methods, ultimately improving the quality of life for those affected.

Here are several factors to consider when exploring what causes mental health problems:

Genetics and Mental Health Problems

While there are no genetic tests that specify which traits are inherited, research does show that people with mental illness typically have other close family members with a mental illness. Mental health disorders with higher rates of genetic components include autism, bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, major depression, and schizophrenia.

Trauma and Mental Health Problems

The experiences a person survives influence mental health, especially when they are traumatic. Trauma is anything that causes a person physical or emotional harm or puts their life in danger. Two people can experience the same trauma, and one may develop a mental health problem while the other is more resilient and avoids a problem.

Examples of trauma-related mental health problems include:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depressive disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Personality disorders
  • Dissociative disorders
  • Reactive attachment disorder

Environment and Mental Health Problems

Environment refers to anywhere a person spends a lot of time, like home, work, and school. Each environment has characteristics that influence mental illness. A disorganized, cluttered house is a risk factor for mental illness. Another risk factor is living in a place that does not meet the basic needs of food, water, and shelter. If the people living in the home are untrustworthy, misusing substances, or causing conflicts, it is a mentally unhealthy environment.

Working a high-stress job or in a place where co-workers or leaders mistreat someone lowers their self-esteem. They feel anxious and depressed about going to work each day. The same is true for academic environments. Bullying affects a person’s performance and overall mental health.

Relationships and Mental Health Problems

The relationships a person has with family, friends, and acquaintances can have a positive or negative impact on mental health. Any relationship with abuse can lead to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another mental health problem is codependency.

Codependent relationships can happen in personal, professional, or academic relationships. Codependency is when a person is in a relationship cycle involving them being givers and the other person being takers. A codependent person needs to feel needed, even if it means being in an abusive relationship.

Signs of codependency include

  • Doing more than their share
  • Fearing the loss of the relationship or rejection  
  • Needing reassurance
  • Having difficulty with boundaries
  • Pleasing others is a priority
  • Having a hard time making decisions

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Problems

For some, having a substance use disorder leads to a mental health disorder. Others misuse substances to cope with mental health symptoms. Recent reports claim there are 21.5 million Americans with a co-occurring disorder of substance use and mental health disorders (SAMHSA).

The most common substances include alcohol, tobacco, opioids, stimulants, marijuana, hallucinogens, and prescription medications. These are combined with the most common mental health problems, including:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Mood disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Conduct disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Physical Conditions and Mental Health Problems

When a person has chronic pain or other physical symptoms that interfere with how they function, it can affect their mental health. Depression and anxiety typically occur with the following disorders:

  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Stroke

Unfortunately, mental health disorders can lead to painful physical symptoms due to their association with increased inflammation, abnormal stress hormones, and metabolic changes.

Treatment for Mental Health Problems

Are you or someone you know grappling with a mental health problem? The Mental Health Center is here to help.

The Mental Health Center offers mental health services in Los Angeles and can help connect you with a doctor who can provide an initial assessment and create a personalized treatment tailored to your needs.

Contact us to schedule an appointment today.


Mental health problems are multifaceted issues that require a comprehensive understanding and approach to treatment.

By acknowledging the complex interplay of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors, we can better support those affected in their journey toward healing and resilience.

Embracing a more informed and compassionate perspective on mental health is crucial in fostering a society where individuals feel empowered to seek help and achieve lasting wellness.