Causes of Mental Illness

There is no single cause for mental illness, and no one is to blame when someone is experiencing a mental illness. Often, it’s a complex interplay of many factors that contribute to a person becoming mentally ill.

Mental illnesses are thought to be triggered by:

  • A chemical imbalance in the brain;
  • Genetics;
  • Psychological and social factors such as a traumatic life event.

Brain Chemistry

A chemical imbalance in the brain is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters which can lead to symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or stress reactions. We are all at-risk for changes in our brains’ chemistry. Recognizing these changes is an important part of treatment and the return to health.

Biological factors, including the following, can also affect the brain’s chemistry and the onset of a mental illness:

  • Pre-natal damage;
  • Birth trauma;
  • Viral infection;
  • Faulty brain chemistry.


Most mental illnesses are more common among close family members, which suggests that genetics plays a role too. People, however, don’t inherit the illness itself. They just inherit the tendency to get it.

Psychological and Social Factors

Psychological and social factors are also major contributors to mental health, and negative experiences within our family or social circle can have a huge impact on our ability to cope and our tendency to become mentally ill. It is commonly thought that mental illness can be triggered by a traumatic life event or situation and/or prolonged stress. Some examples are as follows:

  • Lack of support from relationships;
  • Child abuse and neglect;
  • Family violence;
  • Severe or prolonged stress;
  • Unemployment;
  • Major changes in life.

Your emotional health comes from a combination of your attitudes, personality, support systems, and brain chemistry. Positive attitudes and healthy lifestyle choices may help us through many of life’s difficulties. A good support system of family and friends is also valuable during challenging times. But a mental illness can affect even the most upbeat, “can-do,” well-adjusted person, just as a physical illness can affect those who are diligent about their physical health.