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Main article: Mental disorder

The causes of mental disorders are complex, and interact and vary according to the particular disorder and individual. Genetics, early development, drugs, disease or injury, neurocognitive and psychological mechanisms, and life experiences, society and culture can all contribute to the development or progression of different mental disorders.

Theoretical perspectives

There are a number of theories or models, seeking to integrate and explain diverse findings on mental disorders. Different disorders may require different explanations and are likely to have their own etiology (pattern of causation). The most common view is that disorders tend to result from genetic vulnerabilities and environmental stressors combining to cause patterns of dysfunction or trigger disorders (Diathesis-stress model). A practical mixture of models may often be used to explain particular issues and disorders, but the primary focus of contemporary mainstream Western psychiatry has been said to be the biopsychosocial (BPS) model [How to reference and link to summary or text]- incorporating or merging together biological, psychological and social factors - although this may be commonly neglected or misapplied in practice due to being too broad or relativistic.[1] and, in reality, biopsychiatry has tended to follow a biomedical model, focusing on "organic" or "hardware" pathology of the brain. Psychoanalytic theories, focused on unresolved internal and relational conflicts, have been posited as overall explanations of mental disorder, although today most psychoanalytic groups are said to adhere to the biopsychosocial model and to accept an eclectic mix of subtypes of psychoanalysis.[1] Evolutionary psychology (or more specifically evolutionary psychopathology or psychiatry) has also been proposed as an overall theory, positing that many mental disorders involve the dysfunctional operation of mental modules adapted to ancestral physical or social environments but not necessarily to modern ones.[2][3][4] Attachment theory is another kind of evolutionary-psychological approach sometimes applied in the context for mental disorders, which focuses on the role of early caregiver-child relationships, responses to danger, and the search for a satisfying reproductive relationship in adulthood.[5] An overall distinction is also commonly made between a "medical model" (also known as a biomedical or disease model) or a "social model" (also known as an empowerment or recovery model) of mental disorder and disability, with the former focusing on hypothesized disease processes and symptoms, and the latter focusing on hypothesized social constructionism and social contexts.[6]


Family-linkage and twin studies have indicated that genetic factors often play an important role in the development of mental disorders. The reliable identification of specific genetic susceptibility to particular disorders, through linkage or association studies, has proven difficult.[7][8] This has been reported to be likely due to the complexity of interactions between genes, environmental events, and early development[9] or to the need for new research strategies.[10] The heritability of behavioral traits associated with mental disorder may be greater in permissive than in restrictive environments, and susceptability genes probably work through both "within-the-skin" (physiological) pathways and "outside-the-skin" (behavioral and social) pathways.[11] Investigations increasingly focus on links between genes and endophenotypes - more specific traits (including neurophysiological, biochemical, endocrinological, neuroanatomical, cognitive, or neuropsychological) - rather than disease categories.[12][13]

Pregnancy and birth

Environmental events surrounding pregnancy and birth have been linked to an increased development of mental illness in the offspring. This includes maternal exposure to serious psychological stress or trauma, conditions of famine, obstetric birth complications, infections, and gestational exposure to alcohol or cocaine. Such factors have been hypothesized to affect specific areas of neurodevelopment within the general developmental context and to restrict neuroplasticity.[14]

People with developmental disabilities, such as mental retardation, are more likely to experience mental illness than those in the general community.[15]

Disease, injury and infection

Higher rates of mood, psychotic, and substance abuse disorders have been found following traumatic brain injury (TBI). Findings on the relationship between TBI severity and prevalence of subsequent psychiatric disorders have been inconsistent, and occurrence has been linked to prior mental health problems as well as direct neurophysiological effects, in a complex interaction with personality and attitude and social influences.[16]

A number of psychiatric disorders have often been tentatively linked with microbial pathogens, particularly viruses; however while there have been some suggestions of links from animal studies, and some inconsistent evidence for infectious and immune mechanisms (including prenatally) in some human disorders, infectious disease models in psychiatry are reported to have not yet shown significant promise except in isolated cases.[17] There have been some inconsistent findings of links between infection by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii and human mental disorders such as schizophrenia, with the direction of causality unclear.[18][19][20] A number of diseases of the white matter can cause symptoms of mental disorder.[21]

Poorer general health has been found among individuals with severe mental illnesses, thought to be due to direct and indirect factors including diet, bacterial infections, substance use, exercise levels, effects of medications, socioeconomic disadvantages, lowered help-seeking or treatment adherence, or poorer healthcare provision.[22] Some chronic general medical conditions have been linked to some aspects of mental disorder, such as AIDS-related psychosis.

The current research on Lyme's Disease caused by a deer tick, and related toxins, is expanding the link between bacterial infections and mental illness. [How to reference and link to summary or text]

Individual characteristics

Mental characteristics of individuals, as assessed by both neurological and psychological studies, have been linked to the development and maintenance of mental disorders. This includes cognitive or neurocognitive factors, such as the way a person perceives, thinks or feels about certain things;[23][24][25][26][27] or an individual's overall personality, temperament or coping style[28][29][30] or the extent of protective factors or 'positive illusions' such as optimism, personal control and a sense of meaning.[31][32]

Abnormal levels of dopamine activity have been implicated in a number of disorders (e.g., reduced in ADHD, increased in Schizophrenia), thought to be part of the complex encoding of the importance of events in the external world.[33] Dysfunction in serotonin and other monoamine neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine has also been centrally implicated in mental disorders, including clinical depression as well as obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, posttraumatic stress disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, although the limitations of a simple "monoamine hypothesis" have been highlighted[34] and studies of depleted levels of monoamine neurotransmitters have tended to indicate no simple or directly causal relation with mood or major depression, although features of these pathways may form trait vulnerabilities to depression.[35] Dysfunction of the central gamma-aminobutyric (GABA) system following stress has also been associated with anxiety spectrum disorders and there is now a body of clinical and preclinical literature also indicating an overlapping role in mood disorder.[36]

Findings have indicated abnormal functioning of brainstem structures in disorders such as schizophrenia, related to impairments in maintaining sustained attention.[37] Some abnormalities in the average size or shape of some regions of the brain have been found in some disorders, reflecting genes and/or experience. Studies of schizophrenia have tended to find enlarged ventricles and sometimes reduced volume of the cerebrum and hippocampus, while studies of (psychotic) bipolar disorder have sometimes found increased amygdala volume. Findings differ over whether volumetric abnormalities are risk factors or are only found alongside the course of mental health problems, possibly reflecting neurocognitive or emotional stress processes and/or medication use or substance use.[38][39] Some studies have also found reduced hippocampal volumes in major depression, possibly worsening with time depressed.[40]

Life events, stresses and relationships

It is reported that there is good evidence on the importance of psychosocial influences on psychopathology in general, although less known about the specific risk and protective mechanisms.[41] Maltreatment in childhood and in adulthood, including sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, domestic violence and bullying, has been linked to the development of mental disorder, through a complex interaction of societal, family, psychological and biological factors.[42][43][44][45][46][47] Negative or stressful life events more generally have been implicated in the development of a range of disorders, including mood and anxiety disorders. The main risks appear to be from a cumulative combination of such experiences over time, although exposure to a single major trauma can sometimes lead to psychopathology, including PTSD. Resilience to such experiences varies, and a person may be resistant to some forms of experience but susceptible to others. Features associated with variations in resilience include genetic vulnerability, temperamental characteristics, cognitive set, coping patterns, and other experiences.Cite error: Closing </ref> missing for <ref> tag[48]

Society and culture

Problems in the wider community or culture - such as poverty, unemployment or underemployment, lack of social cohesion, migration - have been implicated in the development of mental disorder.[6][41] Mental illnesses have been linked to particular social and cultural systems.[49][50][51][52][53]

Stresses and strains related to socioeconomic position (socioeconomic status (SES) or social class) have been linked to the occurrence of major mental disorders, with a lower or more insecure educational, occupational, economic or social position generally linked to more mental disorder.[54] There have been mixed findings on the nature of the links and on the extent to which pre-existing personal characteristics influence the links. Both personal resources and community factors have been implicated, as well as interactions between individual-level and regional-level income levels.[55] The causal role of different socioeconomic factors may vary by country.[56]

Minority ethnic groups, including first or second-generation immigrants, have been found to be at greater risk for developing mental disorders, which has been attributed to various kinds of life insecurities and disadvantages, including racism.[57]

See also


Further reading


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  3. Brune, M. (2002) Toward an integration of interpersonal and biological processes: evolutionary psychiatry as an empirically testable framework for psychiatric research. Psychiatry. 2002 Spring;65(1):48-57.
  4. Nesse, R. (2002) Evolutionary biology: a basic science for psychiatry World Psychiatry. 2002 February; 1(1): 7–9.
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  6. 6.0 6.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Rogers&Pilgram05
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Mental illness (alphabetical list) Edit
Acute stress disorder | Adjustment disorder | Agoraphobia | alcohol and substance abuse | alcohol and substance dependence | Amnesia | Anxiety disorder | Anorexia nervosa | Antisocial personality disorder | Asperger's syndrome | Attention deficit disorder | Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder | Autism | Avoidant personality disorder | Bereavement | Bibliomania | Binge eating disorder | Bipolar disorder | Body dysmorphic disorder | Borderline personality disorder | Brief psychotic disorder | Bulimia nervosa | Circadian rhythm sleep disorder | Conduct disorder | Conversion disorder | Cyclothymia | Delusional disorder | Dependent personality disorder | Depersonalization disorder | Depression | Disorder of written expression | Dissociative fugue | Dissociative identity disorder | Dyspareunia | Dysthymic disorder | Encopresis | Enuresis | Exhibitionism | Expressive language disorder | Female and male orgasmic disorders | Female sexual arousal disorder | Fetishism | Folie à deux | Frotteurism | Ganser syndrome | Gender identity disorder | Generalized anxiety disorder | General adaptation syndrome | Histrionic personality disorder | Hyperactivity disorder | Primary hypersomnia | Hypoactive sexual desire disorder | Hypochondriasis | Hyperkinetic syndrome | Hysteria | Intermittent explosive disorder | Joubert syndrome | Kleptomania | Down syndrome | Mania | Male erectile disorder | Munchausen syndrome | Mathematics disorder | Narcissistic personality disorder | Narcolepsy | Nightmare disorder | Obsessive-compulsive disorder | Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder | Oneirophrenia | Oppositional defiant disorder | Pain disorder | Panic attacks | Panic disorder | Paranoid personality disorder | Pathological gambling | Pervasive Developmental Disorder | Pica | Post-traumatic stress disorder | Premature ejaculation | | Primary insomnia | Psychotic disorder | Pyromania | Reading disorder | Retts disorder | Rumination disorder | Schizoaffective disorder | Schizoid personality disorder | Schizophrenia | Schizophreniform disorder | | Schizotypal personality disorder | Seasonal affective disorder | Separation anxiety disorder | Sexual Masochism and Sadism | Shared psychotic disorder | Sleep disorder | Sleep terror disorder | Sleepwalking disorder | Social phobia | Somatization disorder | | Specific phobias | Stereotypic movement disorder | Stuttering | Tourette syndrome | Transient tic disorder | Transvestic Fetishism | Trichotillomania | Vaginismus
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