Friday, May 13, 2016

Mental Health Month: Environmental Factors

May is Mental Health Month! If you know me, then you know that mental health, along with suicide prevention, is something very near and dear to my heart - I have worked with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for the past few years, raising funds and awareness any way that I can! So, when I was contacted by Jennifer from about sharing an article on life-saving suicide prevention advice I knew I was ALL IN!

It may be surprising to some, but suicide is actually the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 - 24. And, in fact, the suicide rate for both genders in that age group has steadily increased since 2007. But young people aren’t the only ones being affected by increased suicide rates. The rate of suicide for middle-aged men has increased by 40 percent since 2008.

From bullying to financial troubles to mental health issues, there are many reasons people choose to take their own lives. seeks to educate young people and adults who may be considering suicide about the life-saving resources available to them.

What Environmental Factors Contribute to Suicide?

Genetics do not always determine your risk of suicide or your chance of developing a mental illness. Additionally, having suicidal thoughts does not necessarily mean that you have a mental illness. Studies have found that certain environmental conditions can contribute to suicide rates, with or without a history of mental illness.

Image: Pixabay by StockSnap

Environmental Factors That Contribute to Suicide
For ages, researchers have continued to debate the role of nature versus nurture.  While some believe that we are born with blank slates (“tabula rasa”), others believe that our traits are wholly determined at birth. Most scientists and psychologists, however, believe that we both inherit initial traits and acquire them as we grow. When it comes to suicidal behaviors, genetic factors can cause a predisposition, but environmental factors can also contribute to your risk. 

There are a number of environmental factors that shape our minds and bodies, helping to determine who we are in the present and in the future. While these factors are not determinative of suicidal thoughts or attempts, they do increase the potential risk. They can include:
  • Experiencing a negative life event (such as death of a loved one or a break up)
  • Being a victim of abuse, neglect, or bullying
  • Having access to means of suicide (such as a weapon)
  • Being a substance abuser
  • Having financial difficulties
  • Lacking societal or familial support
  • Having a physical illness
  • Exposure to low temperatures or little sunlight

One factor can affect or lead to another, creating an even higher risk; A death in the family may lead someone to use drugs and alcohol as a coping method. To reiterate, however, these factors do not necessarily mean that those who experience these conditions will consider or commit suicide. This simply means that individuals exposed to these things are at an increased risk. 

How Factors Play a Role in Suicide
The contribution of environmental factors to suicide rates can be complex, but can occur with or without the presence of a mental illness or a genetic predisposition.
  1. Suicide Caused by Environmental Factors, Without Mental Illness: When certain conditions become so intolerable, those without the proper resources may consider suicide, regardless of the presence or absence of a mental illness. For example, if someone is experiencing a large financial crisis with no way out, they may think that suicide is their only option. The financial crisis may lead to a low level of depression (known as reactive depression), but may not meet the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness (such as clinical depression). That being said, even reactive depression caused by stressful situations can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
  1. Suicide With Mental Illness Caused by Environmental Factors (as opposed to strictly genetics): While many individuals are born with (or have a genetic predisposition to) mental illness, environmental factors can also lead to mental illness, thus increasing risk of suicide. It is important to note that environmental conditions can trigger a dormant genetic predisposition, which can cause mental illness, or the environmental factors alone can lead to mental illness. For example, low ambient temperature or lack of exposure to sunlight can cause either reactive or clinical depression, along with other mental illnesses, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder. As another example, factors such as substance abuse can actually change the way a brain works, leading to feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness, and ultimately, suicidal thoughts or attempts. 
To summarize, while genetics may play a role in suicidal behaviors for some, the influence of environmental factors should not be overlooked. 

Jennifer McGregor is the co-creator of, which was made for one of her pre-med classes as a project. With the site, she intends to provide various resources pertaining to medical inquiries and general health. When Jennifer is not busy being a student, she enjoys walking her dog through the park.

It often seems as though the environmental influences on our lives are often disregarded or ignored, so I am grateful that Jennifer pointed out how outside circumstances can also play a huge role in suicidal behaviors for some.

If you or someone you know is dealing with suicidal thoughts or feelings, please know THERE IS HELP! I know that it might not seem like it right this moment, but this will get better - I PROMISE! The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 and can be contacted at 1(800) 273-8255 or


I realize this post may not have every one's name on it, but if it aids in helping even one person then it is all worth it!


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