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Biological, psychological and social complexities in childhood development
Biological, psychological and social complexities in childhood development

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3.1 Risk factors and long-term effects

Although mental illness can affect anyone, it is important to be aware of the risk factors which make mental illness more likely. For example, those that have suffered emotional abuse are more likely to develop depression and/or anxiety. Many people who have been a victim of sexual abuse go on to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Some of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that increase the risk of child and adolescent mental health conditions are shown in Figure 3.

Spider diagram showing ACEs that increase the risk of child and adolescent mental health conditions
Figure 3 ACEs that increase the risk of child and adolescent mental health conditions

Although this is not an exhaustive list it does give an idea of the factors which can contribute to poor mental health. If a person has experienced four or more of these in formative years then they can be six times more at risk of participating in underage sexual activity, eleven times more likely to smoke cannabis and sixteen times more likely to try drugs such as crack cocaine or heroin (Public Health England, 2018). It is also important to note that cyberbullying, online abuse or risks related to digital technologies is an emerging theme in child and adolescent mental health (Public Health England, 2018). At the time of writing an estimated 91% of 16–24-year-olds use the internet for social networking, which is associated with increased rates of anxiety, depression and poor sleep.

Certain groups of people can also be at increased risk of mental illness, such as:

  • Those with disabilities or additional needs may have lower confidence levels or have difficulty in forming social peer support.
  • Individuals from black and ethnic minority backgrounds may have been subject to discrimination, racism and prejudice. There may be an increased stigma in their community surrounding mental health making it difficult to access help and support.
  • Members of the LGBTQ+ community may struggle with identity issues as well as bullying and prejudice leading to them feeling excluded and isolated; fear or actual rejection from family and friends creates a breakdown in social support.