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Explains what mental health problems are, what may cause them, and the many different kinds of help, treatment and support that are available. Also provides guidance on where to find more information, and tips for friends and family.
Mental health problems can have a wide range of causes. It's likely that for many people there is a complicated combination of factors – although different people may be more deeply affected by certain things than others.
For example, the following factors could potentially result in a period of poor mental health:
Although lifestyle factors including work, diet, drugs and lack of sleep can all affect your mental health, if you experience a mental health problem there are usually other factors as well.
"My depression seems to flare up during times when I am stressed and isolated from other people."
Research suggests that some mental health problems may run in families. For example, if you have a parent with schizophrenia, you are more likely to develop schizophrenia yourself. But no one knows if this is because of our genes or because of other factors, such as the environment we grow up in, or the ways of thinking, coping and behaving that we may learn from our parents.
Although the development of some mental health problems may be influenced by our genes, researchers haven't found any specific genes that definitely cause mental health problems.
And many people who experience a mental health problem don't have any parents, children or other relatives with the same condition.
The human brain is extremely complicated. Some research suggests that mental health problems may be linked to a variation in certain brain chemicals (such as serotonin and dopamine), but no one really understands how or why. Arguments that someone’s brain chemistry is the cause of mental health problems are very weak.
But even though there’s no strong evidence to say that any mental health problems are caused by a chemical imbalance in our brains, you might find some people still use brain chemistry to explain them.
Reasons for this might include:
This information was published in October 2017. We will revise it in 2020.
References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.