ache-19005_1920Monica struggles with depression and she is not alone. She is one in five people who will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder this year. And if she doesn’t address her depression, she could be one of ten who will end up being hospitalized some time in their lives. Anxiety, depression and trauma related problems are the most common of all mental health disorders. So what protects us from becoming one of the statistics?

While we don’t have clear explanations regarding who will develop mental disorders, we do know that it is a combination of genetic and non-genetic risk factors that cumulate or come together in such a way that a person is at risk. Consider anxiety and depression, your genetics play a role–about a 30-40% risk factor. And that number is even higher when it comes to substance use (50-60%). But we aren’t victims of our genetics or environments. There are protective factors and steps we can take to  help prevent mental illness:

  1. Social support and safe communities: Having an environment that supports you when difficulties come, helps a person overcome and build resilience. If you are isolated and/or live in a violent neighborhood, you are clearly more at risk. We all need a sense of safety and support from others. Without it, we can easily give in to the pressures around us or begin to think in ways that are not healthy.
  2. Family connectiveness: Having a secure attachment with your parents contributes to the development of self-esteem and self-image. It also builds social skills. Knowing your parent is available helps you feel secure, understood and calm in the middle of stress. It helps build trust and empathy for others as well.
  3. Religion and religious activity: Strong religious beliefs are a protective factor. Study after study supports the idea that religion helps people heal  in so many areas and is related to better mental health, better social health and better physical health.
  4. Safe maternal behavior during pregnancy: Giving a child a good start in life by taking care of your body and managing your stress during pregnancy impact the health and mental health of children. Mothers who drink, smoke and don’t have good nutrition and care place a chid at risk.
  5. Coping skills for stress and problem-solving: One of the most important gifts you can give a child is good coping skills. And your children will learn them from watching you. Life problems will come, but a person who can problem-solve and handle problems will lessen their risk of developing mental health issues. If you model this, your children will do the same.
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