Factors that affect mental health wellbeing (part 2)

By Sparky

Continuing our look at the factors that can affect our mental health.

Environment Our environments have a major impact on our lives, especially our mental wellbeing. A healthy living environment can be described as where we live, work, learn and play. A healthy living environment is safe and attractive, invites everyone to interact with one another, promotes healthy behaviours and is pleasant to live in.

Environment also includes things such as the country you live in, the surrounding areas, what is available within those areas and the relationship with and memories of certain areas. Hence the environment is made up of the combination of where we live and the people around us both in the home and the wider community.

The positive influence 

Being able to set up home in a place of their own choosing, that is warm, comfortable, meets the needs and is safe, enhances people’s sense of self and promotes their health through both physical and mental wellbeing.

Being able to return to a place, that is safe, where there is the possibility to relax and have strong meaningful relationships within.

Having the opportunity to access the community, without fear, enjoy the open spaces and opportunities to exercise and socialise with others and to allow children the opportunity to explore, develop and play safely.

It is very important to people to interact with others who share their culture and values, this promotes a deeper level of understanding. Therefore, many people may choose to live in their area, to be amongst others that are alike.

Participating in a workplace, that embraces diversity. Respecting and valuing people’s differences, encouraging and listening to differing opinions and feeling valued as a team member. An environment that is free from bullying, racism, and harassment. 

Living in a country that prioritises the health of its people, supports their needs to live in a positive environment.

The negative influence

Living in difficult environments, whether it be in the home, the area or the country can be a cause of people becoming mentally unwell. For example:

Having negative or abusive relationships within the home may lead to anxiety or depression, living with a permanent state of stress.

Living in a home with less-than-ideal circumstances, unsafe, in a state of disrepair, poor heating, overcrowding.

Living in an unsupported neighbourhood increase the chances of having social problems such as poverty, crime, racial discrimination, gangs, bullying, drugs, and high unemployment, can have a significant impact on mental wellbeing.

These environments normally have a negative impact and may continue through different generations.

Experiences of Trauma Many people who experience a mental illness would have experienced a traumatic event as well.

The impacts of trauma can occur at any time, not necessarily at the time of the trauma.

Trauma can have far reaching effects on a person’s wellbeing and can occur at any age. The trauma from adverse experiences may affect someone’s life continually or may be a one-off occurrence.

Trauma can be something that directly happens to a person or may be something that they witness or something that has happened to another person which affects your wellbeing.

The following are some examples of trauma that are commonly seen in mental health and addiction services:

Loss of a loved one or property,

Sexual and physical assault,

Neglect or abuse,


Major accidents or incidents i.e., vehicle or situational accidents, fires,


The affects of Covid-19 and Lockdowns

Fleeing from war zones,

Living through acts of nature i.e., earthquakes, tsunami’s, wildfires, droughts, floods, hurricanes etc. 

The positive influence

Although trauma is never positive. With the correct support for a particular trauma as well as other issues such as mental health problems, some people can find ways and develop skills and strategies for coping with past and possible future issues.

The negative influence

Experiencing trauma can affect a person’s ability to cope with even the slightest of issues. Traumatic experiences may re emerge again and again, in particular through flashbacks and/or nightmares. Many people may try to suppress these memories and feelings by dissociation (disconnecting from their thoughts, feelings, and memories) or numbing behaviors such as using drugs, alcohol, and substance abuse. Often the symptoms will lead to emotional outbursts and social isolation.

Trauma can have far reaching effects and can impact a person’s life for many years after the event/s. Survivors of trauma may make many decisions in their lives to avoid re-traumatisation.

Specific reactions can also develop from different kinds of trauma. For example:

  • There are many reports of people in Christchurch who have experienced the earthquakes and subsequent tremors, have trouble sleeping, have developed a fear of going into muti-storey buildings and a fear of crowded environments.
  • People who have fled war zones, display fear and agitation when hearing loud bangs and other loud noises.
  • People who have been physically assaulted, become scared when they hear raised voices or see other people behaving badly towards each other.
  • The affects of Covid-19 and lockdowns leaving people feeling distressed,
    vulnerable, helpless and judged and the fear lockdown happening again or 
    getting physically ill.
  • People who have survived abuse, develop feelings of guilt, self-worthlessness, self-hate, and isolation to name but a few. 

Lifestyle choices that support wellbeing

The lifestyle choices that people make are extremely important to a person’s mental wellbeing.

These include:




-Recreational activities

-Career and work opportunities

-Alcohol and other drugs

-Goal setting

-Actively listen and be heard


Eating a balanced diet, supports people to keep their bodies in a good physical condition, which supports all over wellbeing. A regular healthy diet maintains energy levels, which supports cognitive function and mood stabilising. The following is some suggestions for looking after your diet:

-Eat regular healthy meals, introducing fruits and vegetables, choose healthier fats, reduce sugar and salt

-Maintain a good body weight

-Limit ‘junk food’

-Keep hydrated, drink more water


Exercise brings many physical and mental health benefits that affect our daily lives and can promote an overall feeling of wellbeing.

Exercise should form part of your routine but sticking to a workout routine or exercise plan can be difficult, especially if a person is experiencing any kind of mental health issue. Exercise often forms part of a treatment and recovery plan for someone who may be struggling at the time.

Once you have managed to integrate an exercise routine into your life it becomes an easy habit to stick to and the benefits can be great. 

Exercise does not mean that you need to join Gyms or clubs which could be expensive, it could be a simple as going for a walk regularly, gardening, swimming, cycling, dancing. It needs to be easy to include into your lifestyle.

Stand up more and avoid sitting and/or being stationary for too long. Stand up for a few minutes, take those minutes to walk around and do some stretching this increases 


It is important to get a good night’s sleep. This can reduce your stress and give you energy to face the next day and the challenges it brings. It is recommended for optimal health benefits you should aim to achieve 7 to 9 hours sleep a night. During sleep the body relaxes, repairs and regenerates.

Some tips for getting into a good sleep routine:

-Get some exercise during the day

-Reduce caffeine and alcohol intake during the evening

-Reduce smoking

-Put your phone, tablet, computer, electronic devices away at least 1 hour before going to bed

-Turn the TV off

-Read a book or magazine

-Have a warm bath or shower

-Recognise when you are having problems with sleep and discuss with your GP, a short-term solution may be prescribed.

Recreational Activities

Find activities you would enjoy and find positive, this will help you to commit to more activity, and make you feel part of a group, if those activities involve others. When people find activities they enjoy, this increases motivation and promotes wellbeing.

Try something new, challenge yourself!

Many recreational activities involve other people, socialising and meeting new people who connect with you, this may lead to a greater feeling of self-worth and ultimately to life-satisfaction.

Career and work opportunities

People feel positive and in control if they can make their own decisions about their employment and careers, about where they work and when they work. The positive feelings that come from being part of an inclusive team, where your opinions are valued and your efforts are recognised, is a great self esteem boost. Maintaining a good work, life balance is satisfying and can improve personal fulfillment.

Deciding to change jobs or pursue a different career can be both exciting as well as frightening, however highly motivating.

Alcohol and other drugs

Apart from the health implications that drinking alcohol, and substance usage has on the physical health, it can lead to other issues, such as a dependency and may lead to mental health wellbeing issues if the usage becomes out of control.

Being aware of the amount that is being used and if possible, reduce. Remember it is always to ok to say ‘No’.

Goal Setting

Setting goals for yourself or with others is a very empowering way to have control over your own lives. 

Start by deciding what you want to do or work toward,

Write it down,

Make a plan,

Set a timeline,

Commit and start,

Tell someone else about your goal, so they can check in with you.

Do not worry if you do not achieve the goal, review it, break it into small steps and restart. Many people set goals and find they are not achieving them at present, so keep reviewing.

Actively listen and be heard

Making active listening part of your daily life especially when supporting someone who may need support. Be neutral and non-judgmental, ask questions, reflect back what is said, to ensure understanding, give eye contact and non-verbal signs of listening, i.e., smiling, leaning in. Ask for clarification and summarise you’re understanding.

It is really important that the same is afforded to you, should you need some support, be active in seeking help and support and ensure you are heard.


Lifestyle choices which did not support a person’s mental health wellbeing

From your own experiences can you think about two occasions when lifestyle choices were made which did not support a person with their wellbeing.

Occasion 1

What was the lifestyle choice?

How did that choice not help support the person’s mental health wellbeing? What negative effects did it have?

Occasion 2

What was the lifestyle choice?

How did that choice not help support the person’s mental health wellbeing? What negative effects did it have?

Lifestyle choices which supported a person’s mental health wellbeing

From your own experiences can you think about two occasions when lifestyle choices were made which supported a person with their wellbeing.

Occasion 1

What was the lifestyle choice?

How did that choice support the person’s mental health wellbeing? 

Occasion 2

What was the lifestyle choice?

How did that choice support the person’s mental health wellbeing? 

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