When

we talk about health the first thing that comes in our mind is physical health.

However, we need to understand that mental health is also equally important for

us. For many years we have been following – A healthy body holds a healthy mind

but it’s the time to reverse the slogan. The mind is the hidden master of our

body.

Mental

illness contributes significantly to the global burden of mental disorders. It

is therefore important to grasp how and to what extent environmental exposures

affect our mental health. Mental disorders have a lifetime prevalence of two

out of seven adults and will continue to remain a leading cause of disease

burden. Such disorders have devastating consequences on the quality of life and

also a striking challenge for health systems as a whole. Therefore, the

reduction of mental disorders is a health priority in both developed and

developing countries. This article is dedicated to the environmental factors

that lead to stress and other mental health issues.

World Health Organization (WHO), defines mental health as:

"...

a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities

can cope with the normal stresses of life can work productively and fruitfully,

and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."

Mental

health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how

we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate

to others, and our decisions. Mental health is important at every stage of

life, from childhood to old age.

Mental

health is not all about what’s going on inside our head. What’s happening

outside our head is also important. From a cluttered bedroom to a poorly-lit

office to the view from a window — it can all impact your well-being and state

of mind.

The

physical environment directly impacts our psychological health. That’s why we

often think about what’s around us. And all that external stimuli has an

effect! Maybe the laundry hasn’t been folded in three days, and it bugs you

every time you go to bed. Or, our kitchen is dark and gloomy, and so cooking

dinner makes us bore.

Adjusting

our surroundings can dramatically improve your mental health. However, until

now the role of a healthy environment plays in safeguarding human health had

been greatly neglected. Although, things are changing as both citizens and

government are now realizing that by helping nature we also improve our

well-being.

Pic Credit Shishir Pal Singh

It

is well-documented that human mental health emerges from a complex interplay

between genetic, psychological, lifestyle, and other factors. In addition,

people are also exposed to numerous environments. These environmental exposures

(e.g., air pollution, noise, green space, weather conditions, and housing

conditions) might trigger mental disorders or be protective factors,

facilitating stress reduction, mental recovery, etc. In this article,

“environmental exposure” is understood in the broader sense.

Air pollution

The

increase in air pollution due to rapid and heavy urbanization is one of the

biggest environmental threats. It is particularly harmful to mankind, both

physically—through damage to our lungs, heart, etc.—and mentally as well. There

is now growing evidence of a link between certain air pollutants and mental

illnesses such as depression, dementia, anxiety and suicide. The risk is

especially high among young people living in urban areas. Contaminated dust

from chipping, lead-based paint in poor quality, older homes, is a major route

of lead exposure in children. Local governments can play a key role in tackling

the mental health crisis by reducing air pollution, enhancing the availability

of green cover or establishing electric and non-motorized transport

initiatives.

Water

Lead

and other heavy metals are toxic to our nervous system. Even very low levels of

lead, manganese, cadmium, polyaromatic hydrocarbons and organophosphate

pesticides concentration in blood may be associated with irritability,

depression, anxiety in adults and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

(ADHD) decreased intelligence, behavioural difficulties and learning problems

in children.

Crowds and loud noises

Studies

have shown that crowded rooms and loud exterior noises lead to higher rates of

sleep deprivation, stress and anxiety disorders. Researchers have found that

living in a city boosts activity in your amygdala - the part of our brain

that’s associated with memory and emotional intelligence - and is affected when

someone encroaches on our precious personal space.

Poor light

A

lack of natural light can lead to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) - a type of

depression also known as “winter blue”. But it’s not just winter lighting that

can affect your mood. Our office lighting might put us down in the dumps, too.

Poor lighting in offices and homes can lead to a range of mental disorders like

stress, irritability and anxiety, especially when paired with a high-pressure

environment.

Housing quality

House

type (e.g., high-rise), floor level, and housing quality (e.g., structural

problems) have all been linked to mental health. High-rise, multiple dwelling

units are inimical to the psychological well-being of mothers with young

children and possibly that of young children themselves. These effects seem

particularly pronounced among low-income families. They tend to psychological

distress that incorporates subclinical symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Suspected reasons for the link between high-rise housing and psychological

distress are social isolation of mothers and restricted play opportunities for

children. In many high-rise buildings, particularly for low-income families,

insufficient resources are allotted to spaces that afford the development and

maintenance of social networks. Lobbies, lounges, and other small-group spaces

are absent or located too far from residences or in public areas that afford

insufficient residential control and feelings of ownership (e.g., public lobby

upon entrance). Women in large, high-rise housing developments report more

loneliness and diminished territorial control in comparison to women of similar

backgrounds living in other types of housing.

It has been seen that increased green cover or parks and gardens often helps in promoting positivity on individuals and can be a catalyst in reducing mental health problems. The increased green cover act as the lung of nature helping in reducing the pollution and relieving from stress. Improving the quality of air, water, noise, housing condition and surrounding could make us more relax and stress-free.

About the Author: Dr. Sachchidanand Singh

Dr. Sachchidanand Singh, completed MBBS from Patna Medical College, Patna in 2007 and MD - psychiatry from Central Institute Of Psychiatry in 2013 . His expertise on the field of Depression, Anxiety, Phobia, Mood Disorder, Schizophrenia, De- Addiction, Headache, Epilepsy and other Psychiatric illnesses help people of Bihar to fight with mental illness.