Where Does Mental Illness Come From?

Posted By: on January 17, 2015
photo of two sticky notes that say "Cause - Effect"


Sometimes people ask me: Where do mental health issues come from in the first place?

In general, there are three main reasons for mental health issues. The first two are responsible for a small percentage of mental illness, and the third cause is the culprit in the vast majority of cases.

Causes 1 and 2: Biochemistry and Acute Trauma

For a small percentage of people, the cause is biochemical. The biology of the brain is out of balance, which brings on mental illness.

A second group of people have suffered some kind of acute trauma in their lives. This could be a major car accident, a rape or another act of violence, either directly against us, or against someone else while we watched.

Cause 3: The Cumulative Effect of Unresolved Trauma from Childhood

The most common reason for mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression is the cumulative effect of unresolved trauma from childhood. Growing up, most of us suffered from one of these three things, listed in order of intensity:

  1. Abuse, either verbal, emotional, or physical.
  2. Neglect, either verbal, emotional, or physical.
  3. Some sort of unavoidable relational failure, such as a mother who was ill at lot of the time, or if both parents had to work and were not available, or an environment with a large number of siblings that kept the parents too busy to spend time with us.

In any of these cases, what happens is that our relational needs and feelings go unmet. When that happens, we develop coping methods to deal with the feeling we experience as a result of our unmet needs.

Those coping methods distract us from the pain and neglect we’re feeling, and they take us away from the relationship that’s causing the hurt. Instead we try to sooth ourselves through these other pursuits, including hobbies, television, video games, or substance abuse.

Over time, when we soothe ourselves through these coping mechanisms, we stop reaching out into relationships for support, and we stop communicating our relational needs and feelings to anyone, including ourselves.

This can lead to a feeling of having to “take on the world” all by ourselves, a feeling that can lead to anxiety. If we hold in so much of what we feel for a long time, the anxiety can often build into a deep, painful depression.

The Good News: There Is Help for People Affected By Any of the 3 Causes

The good news is that any of these issues can be resolved in the context of our present-day relationships. This is true despite the fact that the the pain and suffering we feel today is largely the result of unresolved issues from relationships in our past.

Your present day relationships can provide a safe, secure place where unresolved issues and unresolved hurts can melt away, as can all the ways we block ourselves from being spontaneous and natural. We can learn to be our natural, spontaneous selves, free from depression, anxiety, or whatever other mental health issue ails us.

We’re here to help you in the journey. If you’d like to talk about your hurts in a safe, secure environment, feel free to give us a call.

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