How much do we know about the environmental effects on youth mental health?
This is the first article of a series on: Environment and Mental Wellness of Youth
The environment influences our physical health but have you ever considered its effects on our mental health? Almost one in four people globally experience a mental health issue every year and the environment plays a crucial role, along with genetic and psychological factors. Youth and children are more sensitive to toxic environments than adults due to the early stages of their brain development and therefore more vulnerable to mental disorders.
The environment encompasses the natural world of forests, seas and deserts, as well as municipal surroundings, such as the buildings, roads and traffic. Negative exposure to these factors can adversely influence youth’s physiological development and mental health. For example, toxic chemicals (e.g. lead and pesticides), contaminated water and polluted air not only risks the physical health (e.g. respiratory and cardiovascular diseases) but may also result in a wide range of mental disorders including intellectual and learning disabilities. Studies have shown that children who are exposed to higher levels of traffic noises are more vulnerable to hyperactivity disorders while those raised in greener neighbourhoods have lower incidences of mental health conditions such as ADHD. However, our environment goes beyond merely the natural and built world and includes our social surroundings, such as our families, cultural settings, societal beliefs and social interactions. The next article will focus more on the social environment.
It is our responsibility to promote mental wellness through different strategies including changes within the family, community services, educational system and awareness-raising portals. Families can limit the exposure of children to toxic environments by taking a proactive role in educating themselves and frequenting green spaces. Community services can improve housing conditions and provide healthier neighbourhoods (e.g. greener spaces), transportation (e.g. more bike lanes) and more accessible healthcare resources. The educational system can play its pivotal role by better informing youth and their families about public health, the environment and early childhood mental health vulnerability. Awareness-raising portals including The Starfish can be another resource to promote the importance of the environment, either physical or social, in our youth’s mental wellness and how families and public programs can be involved.
Here at The Starfish, I am starting a series of articles titled “Environment and Mental Wellness of Youth”. I will build a platform from which everyone can benefit and be heard if they have any specific feedback and insight. Please tell me more about what environmental factors you think are significant in youth’s mental wellness. Do not hesitate to share with me your thoughts and suggestions as your opinions directly affect future articles.
Amir Reza Peimani
Amir possesses a B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Mech. Eng. and is currently a PhD student in Biomedical Eng. at University of Toronto. Originally from Isfahan, a picturesque city in Iran, Amir has been living in Toronto for over three years. He is passionate about reading and writing on various issues/topics that people are dealing with nowadays. Amir sees Starfish as an opportunity to not only improve his writing skills, but also contribute to the community of Canadian youths.