There is no single cause of mental illness, and no one is to blame when someone develops a mental illness. A complex interplay of factors affect a person’s mental health.

Our emotional health is dependent on a combination of attitudes, personality, support systems, and brain chemistry. Positive attitudes and healthy lifestyle choices can help you through many of life’s difficulties. A good support system of family and friends is also valuable during challenging times.

Mental illnesses are thought to be triggered by the following:

Brain chemistry

A chemical imbalance in the brain is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters, which can lead to symptoms such as depression, anxiety or stress reactions. We are all at risk for changes in our brain’s chemistry. Recognizing these changes is an important part of treatment and the return to health.

The following biological factors can also affect the brain and the onset of a mental illness: prenatal damage, birth trauma, viral infection and faulty brain chemistry.

Psychological and social factors

It is commonly thought that mental illness can be triggered by a traumatic life event or situation, and/or prolonged stress. Some examples of traumatic events are child abuse and neglect, family violence, severe or prolonged stress, and unemployment.


Most mental illnesses are more common among close family members, which suggests that genetics plays a role. However, people don’’t inherit the illness itself; they inherit only the tendency to get it.