Nature versus nurture is an ongoing debate in human behavior studies. In general, the growing consensus is that both genetics and environment play a role in mental health development. Scientists examine genetic predictors of mental health equally alongside the environmental factors that impact development and, in the end, each contributes to mental well being.
Just as children inherit physical traits like eye color, height, and even likelihood of disease from their biological parents, they also inherit markers of mental health. Studies of twins have been a valuable contributor to this discovery. By examining twins raised in the same home versus those separated at birth, researchers have determined that there are both environmental and genetic predictors of mental health.
First, let’s look at the genetic predictors of mental health. Studies show that mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are genetically linked. This does not mean, however, that the genes automatically develop into a disorder. A child may have a predisposition to a mental health issue without it ever developing. Nature is partly the reason for this.
The environment in which a child is raised is an important determinant in moderating a genetic predisposition toward a mental health disorder. Researchers at the University of Liverpool found that the environment in which one is raised has a stronger impact on mental health than genetics.
Therefore, if environmental factors can potentially overcome the genetic predictors of mental health, it’s important to know more about what this looks like.
Social Well Being
Family, friends, and community all support social well-being. Having safe people who encourage, guide, challenge, and support your personal development is key to overall health. Additionally, other environmental contributors to social well-being include:
- Having a best friend
- Being connected to a faith community
- Gainful employment and workplace contentment
- Meaningful hobbies and interests
- Security in the home
- Connection with family members
- Safe relationships
- Involvement in giving back or charity work
Physical Well Being
Physical well-being is another environmental factor that can override genetic predictors of mental health. You can enhance your physical body through good nutrition, ample exercise and sleep, and stress reduction. Building this kind of strong physical environment creates greater life resilience. Your physical surroundings, where you spend your time, matters as well. For example, building physical resilience includes:
- 7-8 hours of sleep each night
- Not smoking
- Avoiding substance abuse
- Breathing clean air – avoiding toxins and pollution
- Safe working environment
- Moderate climate – no extreme weather
- Whole food diet with fewer processed food choices
- Regular self-care and stress management
Genetic predictors of mental health impact your emotional world. Examine your family history to learn more about the predispositions you may have inherited, but don’t let that determine your future! Understanding the nature versus nurture debate is less about either/or and more about recognizing that both factors contribute to mental health.
Rather, nature and nurture both influence your mental health. The ability to overcome any predisposition toward mental health disorders and preventing the onset of negatively impactful symptoms hinges partly on moderating your environment. Both social and wellbeing factors are strong contributors to your overall well-being and mental health.