Home Psychology How the Environment Shapes Our Mental Health

How the Environment Shapes Our Mental Health

Mental Health

The role of environmental factors in psychology of mental health is well documented, and a ripple effect is felt on the brain’s structure and functioning, resulting in memory loss, learning difficulties and behavioral disorders. And the impact is felt more in the urban landscape than the rural setting. Here, we elaborate on the silent ways our surroundings influence our mood, emotional well-being, and cognitive functioning, whether or not we become aware of the damage within.

In person therapy is widely acknowledged to be a transformative experience improving the quality of life of people affected by environmental disruption. Marriage and family therapists and developmental psychologists emphasize five significant ways how environment affects mental health and where therapy can play  the healing touch.

Chaos and order: Clean and compact spaces create a sense of calm and relaxation. Notably, cluttered environments tend to generate stress and trigger mood swings. So, environmental aesthetics is an important consideration.

Lights, temperature, sound and smell: The sensory inputs we receive, such as harsh lighting, loud noises, putrid smells and dark and cold spaces, can create stress, anxiety and agitation, significantly when the weather worsens. 

Situational comfort and conflict: A warzone in a conflicted area can be severely stressful for the civilian population. A tidy home providing sanctuary to a family will be calm and relaxing. Exposure to inclement surroundings by the homeless fuels mental distress. 

Cultural bonding and isolation: Cultures that celebrate festivals and strengthen fraternal ties are more immune to stress than places where human isolation creates a sense of helplessness, anxiety and depression. 

Positive and negative associations: Family heirlooms, objects and pictures can boost mood and establish positive connections. On the contrary, negative people, violence and social abuse can trigger anxiety, depression and panic. 

Environmental cues that directly or indirectly influence mental health

The four chief environmental factors in psychology that directly impact mental health are the following:


Children growing up in adversity and poverty experience parental neglect, emotional pain and malnutrition, all destabilizing factors, leading to substance abuse, crime and scarred and skewed mental development.

Family environment

Clinical studies on parental influence on child and adolescents confirm that conflicted families suffer deteriorating levels of communication, showing insufficient emotional support and empathy, producing adolescents that are behaviorally volatile with poor dynamic interaction who tend to be disruptive. 

Sociologists studying how your environment affects your mental health say that foster parenthood, an unemployed or depressed parent, and constant verbal conflict between couples spread negativity through biological relatedness. 

Children, by association, growing up in child-unfriendly environments, become more susceptible to depression and more likely to transition into adulthood carrying substance abuse, alcohol dependency issues and lowered self-esteem. 

The urban and rural divide

As people move from rural to urban areas, the reduced exposure to naturalistic areas leaves negative imprints on cognition, mood and behavior. Studies also reveal that proximity to green environments such as gardens, parks, ponds, tree-lined walkways, and improved access to playgrounds and recreational facilities reduced anxiety and depression treatment rates.

The major environment and mental health concerns surround the socioeconomically deprived areas in urban centers where higher unemployment levels, lower incomes, and lack of access to education show significantly higher psychosis rates. 


Unlike the cleaner milieu in rural areas, the urban environment is ten times more prone to atmospheric pollution owing to industrial gasses and exhaust fumes. Over the long term, poor health outcomes centring on chronic central nervous system inflammation spark depression and psychosis.

Environmental transformation, which impacts mental health positively

When you consider city living and mental well being, modification of the following environmental factors trigger significant change:

Natural sunlight is the single most significant influence on human physical, emotional, and behavioral change within a 24-hour waking-sleeping cycle. Exposure to solar rays has a healing effect on depression and anxiety. 

Increased physical activity is critical to improved well-being, and human access to green spaces within the urban landscape and forested mountains and rivers can decrease stress and remove deep-seated anxiety.

One of the major issues impacting mental health and environment is living within closed, air-conditioned spaces in urban centers.  Unhealthy indoor living increases human susceptibility to cigarette smoke, molds and plant and animal toxins that negatively impact mental health. Better ventilation, which improves indoor air quality, is one solution. 

Noise pollution that triggers hypersensitivity to sound and hearing loss is known to cause memory impairment, cognitive damage, and learning disorders in children. Reducing noise exposure reduces stress, improves sleep and boosts productivity.

A clutter-free, organized and tidy environment effectively reduces job-related stress and escalates positive thinking.

Socially, academically and in the office environment, strong interpersonal bonds and supportive, caring relationships enable people to overcome stress, depression and loneliness.

Early burnout in professional and personal lives occurs in a highly self-centered and fiercely competitive environment. One of the ways of overcoming environmental factors mental health concerns is to adopt an excellent work-life balance that prevents the onset of many chronic lifestyle diseases like pain, hypertension and digestive disorders, which impact mental health.  


It has been extensively documented that human genetic legacy, psychological issues, and lifestyle choices, among many other factors associated with diverse environments, can create mental health problems in a vicious self-fulfilling cycle.

It’s our understanding that environmental exposures such as climate change, natural and manufactured disasters, poor economic conditions exacerbating unemployment and poverty, and crime-prone neighborhoods, to name a few factors, have a deep imprint on the human subconscious and trigger mental problems such as stress, depression and schizophrenia. 

The positive takeaway is that getting help for mental health issues triggers a change that could inspire people to break free from an oppressive environment. It is the essence of environmental psychology – just as the environment influences humans and shapes us as individuals, humans with an altered mindset can positively change their setting. 

Felicia Wilson


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