How Your Physical Environment Affects Your Mental Health

There has been countless research done over the years regarding how your surroundings can influence your mood and impact your mental health. However, it’s never a bad idea to dig deeper into those ideas to determine how your environment could be affecting your mental well-being.

Depending on where you live, for example, mental health services could be unevenly distributed. Things like urbanization have caused a variety of mental health risks and an increase in disorders like depression, anxiety, and alienation.

Even if you live in a thriving community or a relaxing neighborhood, your home environment could be affecting your mental health more than you realize.

Let’s take a closer look at how your physical environment can impact your mental health, and how you can reach out for help if you need it – no matter where you are.

Health Disparities

We touched on the impact of urbanization, but it’s only one factor creating health disparities – especially in the United States. As the U.S. continues to become more diverse and more groups of people settle in concentrated areas, we’re starting to see mental health issues increase at an alarming rate.

For minority groups, these issues are especially problematic as they’re often at a higher risk. For example, the U.S. suicide rate has increased by 33% since 1999. However, for Native Americans, the rate is much higher. That high rate is potentially caused by

  • Substance abuse
  • Geographical isolation
  • Unemployment
  • Violence/sexual violence
  • Poverty

While studies have shown that other minority groups – including African Americans and Hispanics – have about the same risk of mental health conditions as whites, they don’t often seek out mental health help in the same way. They might not have mental health services readily available, or the environment they were raised in may have led them to believe seeking out mental health treatment is a sign of “weakness.”

Disparities in the Digital Age

Another issue many people face based on their location is digital disparity. Believe it or not, 11% of Americans don’t use the Internet, while 6% of households in the UK are still offline. For some people, staying “off the grid” is a choice. For others, disconnection is due to circumstance. In the U.S., Mississippi, Arkansas, and Alabama are the least connected states. In the UK, Fermanagh and Omagh in Northern Ireland have limited connectivity.

The pattern here is that it’s harder for rural and less populated areas to have the same Internet access as other regions. While it might sound nice, at times, not to have to worry about being connected all the time, it’s not an easy thing to live with in this digital age.

Living without the Internet can make it hard to find a job, attend school, or even stay connected with family members and friends. That can lead to income issues, educational disparities, and even increased risks of social isolation and loneliness. Numerous studies have shown the negative mental health effects of isolation, and though the Internet isn’t a replacement for face-to-face interaction, it’s a way to keep from feeling completely alone. Those without it – especially in rural populations – are at a greater risk of feeling alone without that ability to connect online.

Managing Mental Health at Home

No matter where you live, your personal environment can have just as much of an impact on your mental well-being. Everything from the color of your home interior to the way you decorate can impact things like

  • Mood
  • Cognitive function
  • Behavior
  • Energy levels
  • Stress levels

Your home should be your mental health sanctuary, especially if you live in a location feeling the effects of urbanization or rural disparities. While the ideal home looks different for everyone in terms of mental wellness, consider a few of the following ideas to give yours a boost.

  • Use natural lighting whenever possible
  • Utilize color psychology in your paint and decor to set a “tone” for each room
  • Clean up clutter
  • Bring in houseplants

While your home must be a reflection of your personality, it should also serve as an environment where you can relax, especially if your external environment(s) cause you a lot of stress.

Deciding how to design and decorate your home is fully in your control, and can give you a sense of comfort and peace since you might not be able to change much about your external circumstances like your community / neighborhood.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans and those in busy UK cities chose to move to more rural, less populated areas for the sake of their mental well-being. However, if you’re considering that same solution, make sure you understand the potential disparities and risks associated with them wherever you go. The best thing you can do is to make your mental well-being a priority at home and in your community by practicing self-care and focusing on what you can control in your environment.

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