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5 Things you may not know affect your mental health

October 10th is World Mental Health Day, which is aimed at raising awareness about mental health issues around the world. This year feels especially important, as we deal with the negative effects of the last two pandemic years that have resulted in huge increases in anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses in the world’s population.

When it comes to preventing and treating mental health issues, we all know there are many genetic and environmental factors involved. But there are also other lesser-known factors that may play a role too. Here are five you may not have thought about:

Inflammation resulting from infections

A 2015 study found that there was a possible correlation between infectious diseases and mental health. More specifically, the study found that infections resulting in inflammation in the body, can contribute to psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia or major depression. On the back of this, research is being conducted into the use of anti-inflammatory therapies to help reduce these mental disorders. In simple turns, these studies are pointing to the fact that fighting an infection in our body can not only result in physical symptoms, but mental ones as well.

Air particulates

Depending on how sensitive a person is, their environment can have a noticeable negative effect on their mental health. For example, large cities have lots of environmental triggers such as loud noises, large crowds and limited access to green spaces that can affect cortisol levels in your body, putting it under more stress.

In terms of more specific environmental factors, a review of various studies in 2019 found that there is also a possible link between long term exposure to air pollution and depression and anxiety. One of the possible reasons for this could be that heavy metals found in polluted air can result in inflammation in the body, which is now being linked to mental health issues as mentioned previously.

The gut-brain axis

It’s only fairly recently that scientists have honed in on the communication network between the central and enteric nervous systems, which they’ve named the gut-brain axis (GBA). This shows a direct link between the emotional and cognitive centres of your brain, and your peripheral intestinal functions. What this means is that if your gut and gut microbes are not healthy, then inflammation occurs which can lead to conditions like Alzheimer’s and depression. Foods that are beneficial to the gut-brain axis include Omega-3 fats, fermented foods, high-fibre foods and foods that are rich in polyphenol such as cocoa, olive oil and coffee.

Common household ingredients

In our modern world, we’re surrounded by toxins that can cause adverse health effects ranging from mild allergies to more serious diseases. A neurotoxin is a specific type of toxin that affects how our brain functions and research has linked these with behavioural problems, memory impairment and even neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer’s disease. The worrying part is that many of these named neurotoxins are found in common household ingredients – everything from aluminium baking equipment to cosmetics, pesticides, household detergents and food additives.

Socioeconomic factors

While mental health issues like depression are a global problem, the access and availability of treatment is not evenly spread throughout the world. An article in Lancet Global from 2018 noted that while there is a global average of 9 mental healthcare workers per 100 000, people in the African continent have only 1.4 mental health workers for the same population size. Added to this, research from the UN in 2017 found that most African governments spend less than 1% of their allocated health budgets on mental illness. Within South Africa, private medical aids are cushioning this lack of priority on mental health disorders for its members. Some medical aid schemes, such as the case with Fedhealth, provide mental health support to their members via the Panda app, which can be accessed quickly and conveniently.

Mental health is a complex issue, as there’s certainly not one definitive cause for mental health disorders. We also all experience different living situations, and a singular event can trigger a mental health issue in one person and not in the other. That’s why it’s so important to be aware of all the issues that could affect your mental health, so you can use this knowledge to help others – and take care of yourself too.

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