Mental Illness, Nature And Nurture.


mental illness nature and nurture

We have seen that those of us who suffered significant childhood trauma are more likely than those who were fortunate enough to experience a relatively stable upbringing to develop mental health problems in later life (all else being equal).

However, when in comes to treating mental disorders, there exist two distinct approaches; we can call these the nature approach and the nurture approach; I explain how these two approaches differ from one another below.

1) The Nature Approach:

Mental health professionals who use the nature approach assume the mental disorder is caused by physical factors such as:

– genes

– neurological biochemistry

hormone dysregulation

Therefore, the treatments such mental health professionals use seek to correct the assumed physical problem; these include:

– drugs that alter the brain’s biochemistry such anti-depressants that change levels of serotonin in the brain and anti-psychotics that alter levels of dopamine in the brain

– transcranial magnetic stimulation

electroconvulsive therapy

implants of electrical devices

vagus nerve stimulation

2) The Nurture Approach :

Those who take this approach regard one’s environment as being the cause of one’s mental illness. Such environmental factors include, for example :

– society

– culture

– family

– war

– parental neglect/abandonment/rejection/abuse

– poverty

– social ostracization

Treatments based upon the nurture approach include :

– attempts to improve the individual’s environment

– psychoanalysis

– counselling



The truth is, however, that mental illness is caused by the ways in which physiological and environmental factors interact with one another.

Notwithstanding the above, it is also the case that the development of some mental illness are contributed to more by the genes we have inherited than by the environment within which we have existed and visa versa.

For example, the development of schizophrenia, the latest research suggests, appears to have a genetic contribution of about 80℅ (although it follows from this, of course, that environment still plays a significant role).

By over-focusing on the physical underpinnings of mental illness clinicians may neglect to properly examine vital environmental/psychological contributing factors, and visa versa.

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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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About David Hosier MSc

Holder of MSc and post graduate teaching diploma in psychology. Highly experienced in education. Founder of Survivor of severe childhood trauma.

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