Mental health isn’t something that happens entirely inside a person’s head. Yes, mental health problems often involve brain processes and brain chemistry, but other factors matter as well, including the physical environment a person lives in.
The physical environment can trigger dormant mental health problems or exacerbate existing mental health problems. This may be especially true for adolescents, whose brains and bodies are still developing. Take a look at some of the things that you need to know about how the physical environment affects your teen’s mental health and what you can do about it.
The Affect of Outdoor Physical Environment
Environmental factors can encompass a lot of things, from your home and the people around you to the wider setting of your community, city, and state. Where you live and what you see, hear, smell, and breathe when you walk outside of your door makes a difference to your mental health.
For example, people who live in cities tend to experience more stimuli than people who live in rural areas.
- For some people, that additional stimuli can be overwhelming and can exacerbate problems like anxiety or ADHD.
- On the other hand, people living in rural areas may experience feelings of isolation and loneliness, which can be unhealthy on their own and may lead to or increase symptoms of depression.
Pollution in the environment can also be a factor. Research has shown that children who grow up in areas that have higher levels of pollution are more likely to develop major depression by the time they reach the age of 18, for example. Pollution can also contribute to physical conditions, like asthma, which could, in turn, exacerbate mental health problems.
The Affect of Housing
The type of housing you live in is another factor that contributes to your teen’s mental health. Houses that have bugs, mold, and other problems can contribute to the mental health problems of the people who live in the house, including teenagers.
- If you think about it, you’ll understand why housing can have a profound effect on your teen’s mental health. For example, if your housing situation is cramped – if there are too many people in too small a space, or just not enough space for all of the things you own – your teen will feel restricted or smothered and may feel as if they have no privacy.
- If the house has problems like mold or pests, your teen might feel like it’s never clean, even if everyone is doing the best they can to keep it clean. They might feel embarrassed by the house and not want to bring friends over, which can lead to feelings of stress and isolation from their peers.
All of this can contribute to triggering mental health problems or making existing mental health problems worse. Housing costs can also factor in a teen’s mental health. While teenagers aren’t usually responsible for paying housing costs while they live with their parents, some teens do need to financially contribute in order to ensure that the family remains housed, and this can cause stress and pressure.
Teens who are not financially contributing may also feel stress about whether or not their parents will be able to continue to afford housing, and may experience feelings of helplessness that can contribute to mental health issues.
The Affect of People and Relationships
The people in a teenager’s life are part of their physical environment as well, and their circumstances and behaviors can have a serious impact on a teenager’s mental health. Some of the most influential people in a teenager’s life are their family members, especially those who live in the same house with them.
When parents or other family members have mental health issues or substance abuse problems, those problems affect the teenager as well. Teens may see those family members act out in various ways and they may even experience verbal, physical, or emotional abuse at the hands of family members who are suffering from mental health problems, and this can create mental health issues for the teenager as well.
Relationships with other people who have a big presence in their lives, like teachers and peers also have an affect. Teens who have negative interactions with their teachers and peers, such as being unfairly singled out, punished, ridiculed, or bullied, may experience worse mental health outcomes than teens who don’t have those experiences. On the other hand, teens who experience being encouraged, challenged, praised, and supported by their teachers or peers are more likely to have positive mental health outcomes.
Can You Prevent Mental Health Problems?
In most cases, no one thing can definitively cause or prevent mental health problems. It’s entirely possible to grow up in a polluted area and never develop depression, for example. And people can grow up in very nice houses that never have a pest control problem or mold growth and still develop mental health problems. Some factors that can contribute to mental health disorders are not inherently bad things.
For example, there’s nothing inherently wrong with living in a city, nor is there anything inherently wrong with living in a rural area. But either setting could contribute to mental health problems in some people, depending on their individual personalities and any other conditions in their physical environment. The environment is more than one thing, and it’s important to consider all possible factors when trying to decide how to help your teen.
Some physical environmental factors can’t be easily changed or altered. For example, if you live in a polluted city, there may not be much that you can do to change that, at least in the immediate sense. You probably can’t just pick up and move to a rural area. But understanding the effect that this can have on your teen and learning how to mitigate those factors can help.
You may find that your teen needs medical treatment for asthma, and that having an inhaler on them that helps them breathe more easily also helps their mental state. Or you may need to help your teen learn coping mechanisms for dealing with crowded areas, like:
- Doing breathing exercises
- Knowing when to simply leave a situation that is overwhelming
Once you know what it is that you’re dealing with, you can work on finding ways to deal with it.