The debate on nature vs. nurture has been ongoing for many years now. Many questions have been asked in the cultural, scientific, philosophical, and mental health fields. Are behavior, personality, and mental health a nature or a nurture thing?

Nature is defined as genetics, hormones, and traits that affect human behavior, physical appearance, and even diseases. Nurture is defined as environmental factors, childhood experiences, social relationships, upbringing, culture, and experiences that influence a person. In this article, you will learn if mental health is influenced by nature or nurture. 

Nature vs. Nurture Debate in Mental Health

Here’s a fact about the nature or nurture debate: Twin studies and research show that human traits, personality, and diseases are seen to be influenced by nature for 49%, while 51% result from individual upbringing. 


One of the debates on nature or nurture is personality. How do children develop their personalities? How did you develop your personality? Does genetics solely influence personality, or is it a learned trait through environmental factors?

Children act the way their parents do because of their influence. Personality is learned through what a child witnesses in their parent’s actions. That’s why parents are seen as their children’s role models.

Personality is learned, not genetically passed on. Thus, it is something that is nurtured. 

Sexual Orientation

Another most debated topic in the nature or nurture issue is homosexuality. A poll was conducted in Washington DC on homosexuals about the reason they chose their sexual orientation, whether it is nature or nurture. The poll has gathered these data:

  • Fifty percent of homosexual adults said that nature has to do with their sexual orientation.
  • Thirty percent of the respondents attest that their sexual orientation is attributed to their upbringing and environmental influences.
  • Ten percent said both nature and nurture influence this.
  • Six percent said they were unsure.
  • Four percent stated that homosexuality is caused by something else.

So which is which? Some studies show that homosexuality is largely attributed to nature. With the poll results shown above, the debate still continues.

Mental Disorders

Nature plays a big role in the development of mental health conditions like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. However, genetics is not solely responsible for this. Mental disorders are a result of both genetic and environment-related factors.

There is no genetic switch that can flip the development of a mental disorder, but genes can have an influence. However, childhood experiences or traumatic events can flip a switch for mental disorders. For example, a person can experience anxiety even if no family member has the condition. 

How Nature (Genes) Affects Mental Wellness

The big question is how genetics affect mental health. Nature is an important factor in the development of mental conditions. Scientists have proven that psychiatric disorders run in families and suggest potential roots. That is why doctors ask patients with a family history of mental health conditions to help them diagnose their patients properly.

Studies show the association of biological factors that affect the development of mental health disorders:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and major depressive disorder are 20–45% inherited.
  • Anorexia nervosa and alcohol dependence are 50–60% inherited.
  • Autism spectrum disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are 75% genetic.

As you can see, mental conditions are not 100% hereditary. It’s safe to say that mental health is influenced by both nature and nurture. 

How Nurture (Upbringing) Affects Mental Health

Nurture, which encompasses upbringing, environment-related influences, experiences, and relationships, also plays a big part in a person’s mental health. For instance, why does a person drink so much? Probably to cover up painful experiences, which has led them to substance abuse.

How can a person develop depressive disorders? This can be due to an accumulation of problems and a lack of coping skills. Why does a person develop post-traumatic stress disorder? Probably because they had a traumatic experience like a car accident or witnessing a crime.

The family history of mental health disorders is only the second strongest link to the development of such illnesses. Life events and experiences will always remain the strongest links to mental illness. These include domestic violence, abuse, childhood bullying, traumatic events, and many more. 

Nature and Nurture: Is There a Connection?

Nature and nurture are inseparable; they always go together. In mental health, nature affects nurture, while nurture cannot affect nature.

What’s born in us through genetics cannot be changed. Our DNA and genetics cannot be changed per se. This is a given fact. With nurture, however, there are factors that can be changed.

Even if you had a family member with depression, this does not mean you can develop depression, too. This will all depend on your life experiences or how you cope with them.

You may not be able to change your DNA, but you can take control of certain circumstances in your life. For instance, hereditary genes that cause mental disorders will not be activated if not triggered by environment-related factors. 

Is Mental Illness a Nature vs. Nurture Thing?

As mentioned, mental illness can be triggered by the environment or what happens outside a person (nurture). Genetics (nature) only comes after nurture. In simple terms, it’s more of a nurture and nature thing rather than nature vs. nurture (i.e., one or the other), as both play a role in the development of mental disorders.

The causes of mental disorders are complicated, and the explanation behind the risk factors is complex. Researchers suggest that there is an interaction between genetics and a person’s environment, not only in the area of mental health. 

Nurture-Based Risk Factors

There are many reasons why a person may experience mental health issues, and nurture is a significant contributor. Anyone bombarded with difficulties in life can reach a breaking point. The nurture part of mental health illness or the environmental factors that may lead to mental health problems are:

  • Trauma. Physical, emotional, or sexual abuse during childhood may lead to an increased chance of developing a mental illness.
  • Stressful home environment. This includes parents fighting all the time, divorced parents, or unhealthy home relationships.
  • Emotional disturbance. Bullying experiences in youth, peer pressure, and having no friends or emotional support growing up can be detrimental to a person’s mental well-being.
  • Substance abuse. Alcohol or substance abuse during the teenage or adult years can lead to mental health issues.
  • Traumatic life experiences. Examples are the death of a loved one, financial constraints, unemployment issues, accidents, or war.

Nature-Based Risk Factors

The genetic factors that can contribute to mental illness are:

  • Epigenetic regulation. Epigenetic regulation can affect how a person can react to environment-related factors that may or may not influence the development of a mental disorder. Epigenetics may switch genes on or off. The combination of environment-related influences and epigenetic regulation can cause mental disorders to develop.
  • Genetic polymorphisms. Individual DNA makeup is what makes us all unique, as this accounts for our differences. Genetic polymorphism alone cannot lead to the development of a mental disorder. It is the combination of genetic polymorphism and environmental influences that can lead to the development of a mental disorder.

Nature vs. Nurture in Therapy

Counselors may employ two approaches in treating patients: nature-based or nurture-based therapy. For instance, the nature-based approach seeks answers to address mental problems on a genetic or biological level. On the contrary, the nurture-based approach will address a person’s beliefs, behaviors, and experiences. In most cases, therapy combines both nature and nurture-based approaches.

Medications that treat mental health issues are considered a nature-based approach. Anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medications are meant to deal with chemical imbalances that cause a mental illness. The chemicals inside the brain are a part of nature, as they occur naturally inside the body.

For the nurture part, talk therapy is used to address a person’s emotions related to one’s upbringing and experiences. In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the nature and nurture approaches are used, along with other considerable factors.

Do You Have More Questions?

If you have more questions or are concerned if your mental wellness problem is nature- or nurture-based, you can talk to a therapist about this. No one can give you a professional insight better than a licensed mental health practitioner. If you’re from Kentucky or Ohio and want someone to talk to, the therapists and counselors at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) can help you understand the origins of your issues.

Included in KCC’s services are:

  • Anxiety counseling
  • Depression counseling
  • Adult counseling
  • Family counseling
  • Teen counseling
  • Individual counseling
  • Adolescent counseling
  • LGBTQ counseling
  • Couples counseling
  • Group counseling

KCC offers online telehealth counseling services via online appointments. Now you can easily access counseling or therapy online using your mobile phone, desktop, or tablet. Each KCC therapist, counselor, and psychiatrist is highly trained, professional, certified, and experienced in providing optimal mental health care for Kentucky and Ohio residents. Whether you’re having questions about your mental health or experiencing depression or anxiety, get in touch with Kentucky Counseling Center now. You can schedule an appointment now with KCC DIrect Services.

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