Impact of social environment on mental health

Impact of social environment on mental health

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental disorders affecting millions of Americans today. While scientists and doctors attribute the causes to genes, family history, changes in brain chemistry and substance abuse, environmental factors and interpersonal relationships also play an important role in inducing stress and increasing an individuals’ susceptibility to mental disorders.

Humans experience varied emotions and their means of expression are also different. Some people are outspoken and can easily express themselves while some indirectly express it through their behaviour and subdued thoughts. Negative reactions can give rise to feelings of rejection or defeat and can lead to chronic stress and anxiety. This feeling of defeat is also prevalent in cases of social hierarchy, where “stress-induced depression-like behaviour” can arise out of a sense of depleting social status.

Social ranking linked to depression and anxiety

Social ranking is basically the position that a person occupies in the society. The negative outcomes may arise from situations like defeat in social competitions or loss of a better position at work to a colleague, loss of job or comparison between income levels, which create a sense of inadequacy and inferiority.

One of the prominent theories related to this phenomenon is called the involuntary defeat strategy (IDS) which states that depression is an outcome of an instinct that keeps defeated individuals from attempting to contest with rivals who are deemed superior, a situation which can in turn, increase the depression level for someone who is unable to come out of the IDS reflex. This theory also formed as a base for an earlier study that stated that immediate hierarchy develops in any group of people and the ranking of each person is based on the level of low positive effect, connected to the level of depression as a result of defeat. The study further stated that the lower the ranking of the individual in the hierarchy, the higher is the level of depression and anxiety.

The researchers of a more recent mice-based study conducted by the scientists at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) and published in Current Biology on July 24, 2017, found differential vulnerability to stress in genetically identical mice known as C57BL/6J when chronic social defeat stress (SCDS) model of depression was applied. Using the proton nuclear magnetic resonance (1H-NMR) spectroscopy, a neuroimaging technique, the team observed that subordinate individuals showed lower levels of metabolites related to energy metabolism than the dominant mice. Metabolic profile is connected to social status and vulnerability to stress. When both groups of mice were exposed to chronic stress, “the metabolite levels of energy-related metabolites were increased in subordinate, but not in dominant mice.”

Such findings highlight the effect of stress on people from all sections of the society, that neither those who presumably belong to the lower social hierarchy nor those who are at a higher level are free from stress-induced mental disorders. The study paves way for new approaches to treating stress and understanding if social status can indeed predict onset of depression or anxiety.

Depression and anxiety are treatable

With nearly 40 million American adults being afflicted with anxiety disorders and 16 million with major depressive disorder, it is imperative to investigate and understand the causes, and devise useful interventions. If vulnerability to stress can be identified, prevention methods can help such individuals from being affected.

For those who are already suffering from a mental illness, the Texas Mental Health Recovery Helpline is a good resource to gain more information about your problem. You can reach out to us by calling our 24/7 helpline (866) 596-4708 or by chatting online to get connected to the best mental health treatment centers in Texas. Our representative can help you choose the right mental health treatment program in Texas for you or your loved one.

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