12 Risk factors that can lead to poor mental health in children

Written by Pragya Lodha
Published: September 9, 2021
The Mumbai Program Director & Clinical Psychologist at The MINDS Foundation. Honorary Associate Editor for the Indian Journal of Mental Health with over 100 National and International publications

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Worldwide 10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental disorders. Half of all mental illnesses begin by the age of 14 and three-quarters by mid-20s. 70% of mental disorders onset prior to the age of 25, making the adolescent years a critical window in which mental health can be promoted, and mental health problems can be addressed.  If left untreated, mental disorders can negatively impact a child’s quality of life, making it difficult for them to develop socially, perform well in school, and gain the skills and confidence required for life as an adult.

What Can Affect A Child’s Mental Health?

A child’s mental health is affected by many different things that happen to them and happen in their environment while they are growing up. Their innate nature and tendencies also contributes to their mental health.

Traumatic events can trigger mental health issues. Trauma can include the loss of a loved one, abuse, abandonment, and more. Traumatic events that occur in childhood are called ‘childhood traumatic exposures’ or CTEs, and there is research to show that the more traumatic exposures a child experiences, the more likely they are to develop mental health issues.

Big life changes can also impact a child’s mental health. For example, moving cities or having a new sibling can be destabilizing for some children, and lead to them developing anxiety and other issues. Some children, on the other hand, may be perfectly fine and even excited to face big life changes.

While big life changes and traumatic events may affect a child’s mental health, children develop mental health for many different reasons besides these two. Do not worry if your child is experiencing mental health issues but you are unsure why.

Are Some Children More Likely To Have Mental Health Issues?

A child’s mental health is affected by many different things that happen to them and happen in their environment while they are growing up. If a situation is likely to trigger mental illness, it is called a ‘risk factor’. If a situation is likely to promote good mental health, it is called a ‘protective factor’.

12 Risk Factors Leading To Poor Mental Health:

  • having a long-term physical illness
  • having a parent who has had mental health problems
  • experiencing the death of someone close
  • broken homes and unsupportive family environment
  • having parents who are separated or divorced
  • having been bullied, physically or sexually abused
  • early exposure to alcohol or illicit substances
  • poor and negative peer influence
  • living in poverty, delinquent areas or being homeless
  • experiencing discrimination based on either race, cate sexuality or religion
  • taking on adult responsibilities earlier in life
  • having unresolved long-standing educational difficulties

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Pragya Lodha, MINDS Mumbai Program Director & Psychologist


Ankita Gupta, MINDS Research Associate
Anoushka Thakkar, MINDS Research Associate
Roshni Dadlani, MINDS Communications Lead


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