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The Impact of the Physical and Social Environment on Mental Wellness

Living in a world undergoing drastic climate change, the environment can indeed affect mental health in positive or negative ways, depending on the type and level of change. A person’s immediate physical environment can affect everything from their mood to their behaviour and cognitive abilities. However, the environment also involves social factors such as poverty, toxic relationships, social stigma and lack of affection.

Several studies have been done on the link between the environment and its impact on mental health, and results include air pollution as a direct link to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression. Air pollution can lead to physical issues such as difficulty in breathing, and these can also be anxiety inducing. Polluted air can give a feeling of suffocation and restriction, and our mental health cannot do well in these kinds of conditions. Noise pollution is another factor affecting emotional wellness. For example, loud vehicles on the road can bring in anxiety, or the haphazard chatter in a crowded area can make people uncomfortable, especially those who don't like to be in crowded places.

Caring for the environment can help care for our mental health. It can be something as simple as having a sapling in the backyard and watching it grow, which can make us feel positive and happy. Other ways of caring for the environment can be collecting trash and throwing it where it should be, which can also help a lot of animals. For example, turtles lay eggs on beaches. Cleaning a beach and then watching turtles lay their eggs, knowing their babies are safe, can give a pleasing sensation. Not polluting the sea also results in less sea animals being exposed to hazardous chemicals and objects such as plastic bags, leading to a flourishing and healthy ecosystem in the ocean. After all, we are a part of an ecosystem and maintaining it can certainly be fulfilling.

The social environment is another crucial matter of concern. A society which is highly traditional and is stigmatised in relation to ideas such as fluid gender roles, divorce, and the LGBTQ community, can severely impact mental health. For example, a couple in an unhappy or abusive marriage may not get divorced, fearing what society would think of them, and being treated as outcasts, leading to mental health issues like anxiety and depression. Careerist women may be forced to be housewives, men might be restricted to show their emotions, and those who may identify as gay would not get a chance to express themselves in terms of their identity and truly embrace it.

Poverty can lead to exclusion from society, which can also impact emotional health. Having financial shortages can lead to depression and anxiety, and in most cases it becomes an issue of the survival of not just individuals, but entire families. Parents would worry about meals and not being able to send their children to good schools, children may get bullied simply due to their financial system, teachers may be biased regardless of their academic capabilities and extra-curricular talent.

Therefore, when seeing the connection between the environment and mental health, it is important to see beyond just the physical environment. The social environment is as, if not more important, in the way it affects the emotional wellbeing of a person. It is essential to note that while taking care of our physical environment can be a healthy way of living and vastly improves mental health, we need to break down social boundaries, so that people don’t feel constricted. They should feel free to do whatever they want to, express themselves however they want to and be whoever they want to without the fear of how their social environment would react to it.

Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash