|   Answering your mental health questions

Who Is at Risk for Mental Illness?

One stream of current thinking says that 100 percent of people are affected by mental illness — because if you don’t suffer from one yourself, then you know or will know someone who does.

The simplest answer to the question of who is at risk for mental illness is: everyone. Because such a broad range of disorders fall under the category of mental illness, and because the probable causes of mental illness are so many and so diverse, no one is exempt from the possibility of having a mental illness at some point in their lives.

That said, researchers have identified a number of factors that can increase an individual’s risk of developing a mental disorder.

Significant Risk Factors for Mental Illness

Getting a Mental Health Risk Assessment

If you are concerned about the number of mental health risk factors you have, ask your doctor about undergoing a formal, standardized risk assessment. While mental illness risk assessments are also available online, they are for your interest and general information only and should never be regarded as a self-diagnostic tool.

Some of the strongest mental illness risk factors include:

  • Family history. Many mental illnesses seem to have a prominent genetic component, particularly mood disorders like depression and social anxiety. However, it’s important to remember that you don’t inherit a mental illness from a parent, only a tendency toward possibly developing one.
  • Other mental or physical illness. Mental disorders often occur concurrently: someone battling an addiction or an eating disorder might also have clinical depression; someone with adult ADHD or social anxiety might cope by engaging in addictive behavior; someone with panic disorder might develop agoraphobia. People fighting life-threatening illnesses are also more likely to experience bouts of depression or anxiety.
  • Traumatic event. The mental and emotional upset that results from a significant negative life change, such as the loss of a job, or the loss of a loved one through death or divorce, can make people much more vulnerable to developing mental disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and addictions.
  • Lack of support network. Studies have shown that not having reliable friends, family or other supportive outlets, especially during difficult times, can make a person more prone to suffer from certain kinds of mental illness.
  • Poor self-care. Lifestyle factors such as chronic lack of sleep or poor diet have been shown to increase the risk of becoming chronically anxious or depressed.
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