Login

Physiological Causes & Explanations for Mental Illness

An error occurred trying to load this video.

Try refreshing the page, or contact customer support.

Coming up next: What is a Neurotransmitter? - Definition, Types, Function & Examples

You're on a roll. Keep up the good work!

Take Quiz Watch Next Lesson
 Replay
Your next lesson will play in 10 seconds
  • 0:06 Physiological Psychology
  • 1:34 Infections
  • 3:07 Malnutrition
  • 4:08 Metal Poisoning
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
Add to Add to Add to

Want to watch this again later?

Log in or sign up to add this lesson to a Custom Course.

Login or Sign up

Timeline
Autoplay
Autoplay
Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account

Recommended Lessons and Courses for You

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

There are many factors that can affect a person's mental health, including physiological issues. In this lesson, we'll look at three major physical causes of psychological problems: infection, malnutrition, and metal poisoning.

Physiological Psychology

Hector suffers from autism, a psychological disorder that involves issues with socializing, communication, and behavior. Hector's mom Kelly is worried about what might have caused Hector to be autistic. Was he born that way? Is it because she's a bad mom? Or, is there some other explanation for his problem?

Psychologists don't always agree on what causes mental illness. Some believe that psychological problems spring from problems in childhood that remain unresolved. Others believe that genetics can explain most mental illnesses. Still others think that psychological disorders are caused by learning bad habits.

Physiological psychology is the study of the physical basis of thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. For example, physiological psychology might say that Hector's autism is caused by brain abnormalities, which are caused by some type of biological problem.

Many studies have shown that there are brain differences in people with a variety of mental issues. From depression to schizophrenia to autism, many psychological disorders can be traced to abnormalities in the brain. But, what causes the neurological anomalies? That's what physiological psychology tries to figure out.

Let's look a little closer at some common physiological explanations for mental issues, including viral infections, malnutrition, and metal poisoning.

Infections

Remember Hector? He's suffering from autism. Kelly, his mom, worries that maybe he's autistic because she's a bad parent. For many years, that was what psychologists believed: cold and unloving parents could cause their children to become autistic.

But, brain scans showed that there were neurological abnormalities that caused the autistic symptoms. For the past few decades, then, the question has become, 'If autism has a neurological basis, what causes the brain anomalies?' There are many theories, and scientists don't agree on which theory is correct. One theory with scientific support is the possibility that viral infections during pregnancy or early childhood could change the way the brain develops, causing the symptoms of autism.

There are studies that show correlations between viral infections and autism and studies that show no correlation between the two, so it is impossible to know for sure how strong the link is between the two of them.

For other mental illnesses, though, there is a very strong link between infection and mental illness. Schizophrenia, for example, has strong links to pre- and post-natal infections. Though studies can't show that schizophrenia is caused by infection, it is a risk factor for the disease.

Likewise, there are connections between obsessive-compulsive disorder and the strep infection. Some children who have had a strep infection develop OCD or OCD-like behaviors.

Malnutrition

Though there are several mental illnesses that are connected to infection, it is far from the only possible physiological cause of mental illness. Malnutrition can also play a role in the development of psychological disorders. Sometimes, the malnutrition is in infancy and early childhood, and other times, it is linked to maternal malnutrition during pregnancy.

Remember Kelly and Hector? Kelly has always been thin and eaten very little. Her mother worried that when Kelly was pregnant, she didn't eat enough food and was missing key nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B. Could this have caused Hector's autism?

There are some studies that link nutritional deficiencies to autism. As with infections, though, the evidence for nutritional causes of autism are less strong than for other mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, which is linked with prenatal malnutrition in several studies. Other mental illnesses that might be linked to nutrition include depression and anxiety.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register for a free trial

Are you a student or a teacher?
I am a teacher
What is your educational goal?
 Back

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 10 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 95 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 2,000 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it free for 5 days!
Create An Account
Support