April 12, 2021

Insights from ‘The Interplay Between the Environment and Mental Health’ – Part I

by Kimberly Charleson

This article is the first of a series covering the workshop “The Interplay Between the Environment and Mental Health.”

The groundbreaking workshop The Interplay Between the Environment and Mental Health was held in February 2021 and served as an encouraging sign of increased attention and research considerations in the space of environment and mental health.

The milestone event was presented by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in collaboration with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (speaker Rick Woychik, Director at NIEHS and National Toxicology Program) and the National Institute of Mental Health (speaker Joshua Gordon, Director, NIMH.) 

This conference was a promising step toward a future of collaborative research on the impacts of various aspects of the environment on mental health. It acknowledged biology and mind-body connections and shed light on challenges in understanding environmental factors on both an individual and a population basis. While the workshop’s focus was on mental health, we at JKBF recognize that many of the relationships investigated likely also apply to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, regardless of mental illness. The underlying biological processes related to chemical exposures, nature, weather events, and community also play into the dysregulation or resilience that occurs in suicide.

The workshop discussed growing evidence that the environment can play a significant role in mental health. It acknowledged the complexity and challenges of research into the effects of environmental stressors on behavioral or mental health outcomes and a need for creativity in collaborations, multidisciplinary approaches, and funding streams.

Workshop presentations and discussions focused on topics including: 

  • New diagnostic tools and methodologies in neurobehavioral research frameworks to assess mental health effects
  • Vulnerable populations, such as marginalized communities, adolescents, first-responders, and veterans
  • Identifying public health actions that could help reduce the mental health impacts of environmental stressors

 To view a list of speakers and organizations involved, follow this link.

We’re excited to dive deeper into topics discussed, research shared, and where these investigations can go from here in future blogs. It was clear the speakers understood the need for collaboration, lifespan and longitudinal approaches, evaluation of cumulative and complex effects of exposures, and better ways to measure and use multifactorial analyses. 

At JKBF, our goal is to promote understanding of the wide variety of factors that contribute to suicidal ideation and behaviors so that we might find ways to prevent tragic losses and promote resilience. We applaud these efforts to encourage and support research that focuses on contributing factors to mental health concerns that have traditionally not gained much attention. Changing the approach from reacting to mental illness and suicide as psychosocial constructs to learning about underlying causes and contributors may offer new insights and tools. Novel thinking, cross-disciplinary collaborations, assessment of cumulative effects, and creative funding streams will allow for more meaningful science that adds to our understanding so that we can address both individual and population-based efforts at prevention and resilience. 

We hope you take the time to read and share this blog series. This consideration of the environment provides valuable insights into one area of concern in the understanding that mental health isn’t all in our heads—biology matters. We still have a lot to learn, and we love seeing these scientists rolling up their sleeves to work together!

Kim Charleson is a content and copywriter in the health and wellness industries. She understands the importance of trust and accessible health related information.