Psychosocial factors refer to factors that influence individual behavior and well-being which have two elements: a psychological element and a social element.
We can split this into two categories, both of which need to be present:
- A Psychological Element: This could include core beliefs, emotions, anxieties, self-perceptions, and so on, which impact our actions and reactions.
- A Social Element: This includes relationships, our work environment, social and cultural norms, and societal structures that can impact an individual’s mental and social health (Dixson et al., 2016; Farrell et al., 2017; Rahman, Abdul-Mumin & Naing, 2016).
An example to illustrate this could be the case of a nurse. She loves her job (psychological component) in the hospital where she is employed (social component). However, if she experiences workplace harassment (a negative social factor), it could lead to stress and anxiety (negative psychological effects).
The complexity of psychosocial factors is inherent in their intertwining nature (Lekaviciene & Antiniene, 2016). They cross over and influence each other in myriad ways. For example, person’s ability to handle stress (a psychological aspect) can be immensely affected by their social support systems—think family and friends. Concurrently, a supportive social network can help reduce emotional strains (Upton, 2020).
1. Social Support: Social support is the presence of reliable people whom you can trust, turn to, and lean on in times of need. It could come from various sources such as family, friends, teachers, or mentors. When you have a strong social support network, it significantly helps in mitigating stress, promoting mental health, and improving recovery from illnesses.
2. Self-Efficacy: Self-efficacy is your belief in your own ability to complete tasks and reach specific goals. This factor is instrumental in your psychological health as it determines how you perceive challenges and threats. It also influences your resilience levels and how effectively you can bounce back from life’s trials and tribulations.
3. Coping Strategies: Coping strategies are the active measures you take to deal with stress and adversity. These can include problem-solving, seeking support, and practicing self-care. Good coping strategies can reduce anxiety and depression, promoting overall wellbeing.
4. Life Events: Life events refer to significant incidents and milestones in your life that inherently carry emotional weight. These could be positive (such as marriage or graduation) or negative (like death of a loved one or divorce). Each life event, whether it brings joy or sorrow, contributes to shaping your psychological health and behavior.
5. Work Environment: This factor encompasses all aspects of your workplace—physical conditions, job roles, relationships with colleagues, and superiors. A positive work environment can lead to job satisfaction, reduce stress, and enhance mental wellness. Conversely, an unhealthy work environment can adversely impact your mental and physical health.
6. Family Dynamics: Family dynamics are the patterns and interactions within a family. These include relationships, communication styles, roles, and rules. Healthy family dynamics can provide security and support, while dysfunctional families can increase stress and lead to poor mental health.
7. Education and Literacy: Education and literacy are about your access to learning, resources, and information. They influence your cognitive capabilities, problem-solving skills, and ability to make decisions. A good education and high literacy levels can offer more opportunities and lead to better physical, social, and mental health outcomes.
8. Economic Status: Economic status refers to your financial condition and stability. People with stable economic status, including steady income, housing, and access to necessities, usually experience less stress. On the other hand, financial instability or poverty can lead to chronic stress and associated mental health problems.
9. Resilience: Resilience is your ability to recover from life’s adversities and to adapt in the face of challenging circumstances. It’s demonstrated when you’re able to maintain good mental health despite experiencing trauma or stress. High resilience can help protect against mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.
10. Personal belief systems: Personal belief systems consist of values, attitudes, and principles that you hold dear and use to shape your outlook on life. These beliefs can impart a sense of purpose and provide guidelines by which to live. Both religious and secular beliefs can contribute to a sense of well-being or, inversely, cause existential distress.
11. Gender Identity: Gender Identity relates to a person’s internal perception of their gender. This self-perception can affect a person’s mental health, particularly when their identity is marginalized or not accepted by others. Social acceptance and affirmation of gender identity have been found to reduce rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide.
12. Race and Ethnicity: Race and ethnicity refer to the racial or ethnic groups to which people belong or feel an allegiance. Discrimination or systemic racism can negatively impact mental health, while a strong, supportive community linked to one’s racial or ethnic identity can provide a buffer against some of these negative effects. Sensitivity to the intersection of racial or ethnic identity with other psychosocial factors is critical.
13. Hobbies and Interests: Hobbies and interests involve fulfilling activities that provide joy and leisure. Engaging in hobbies helps redirect focus away from stress, allowing relaxation and rejuvenation of the mind. This can lead to positive mental health outcomes, such as lower depression levels and enhanced cognitive function.
14. Physical Health Status: Physical health refers to the state of your physical body, including any ongoing illnesses or conditions. The connection between physical and mental health is profound, with severe physical illness often leading to depression or anxiety. Similarly, sound physical health can benefit mental well-being.
15. Neighborhood and Living Conditions: This factor takes into account all aspects of your local area and housing situation. It includes elements like safety, access to services, and relationship with neighbors. A safe and supportive neighborhood can positively influence mental health, whereas dangerous or isolated living conditions can contribute to stress and anxiety.
16. Access to Healthcare: Access to healthcare involves your ability to obtain necessary medical and mental health care services. It is crucial for managing both physical and mental health. Lack of access can delay necessary care, exacerbating health issues and leading to heightened stress and poor mental health outcomes.
17. Marital Status: Your marital status and the quality of your marital relationship significantly impact your psychosocial health. A satisfying and supportive marriage can provide emotional support and reduce stress, while an unstable or unhappy marriage can contribute to anxiety and depression.
18. Parenting and Caregiver Status: Whether you are responsible for the care of others significantly influences your wellness. While nurturing relationships can provide a sense of purpose and joy, the stress associated with caregiving responsibilities, especially without adequate support, can lead to burnout and mental health issues.
19. Peer Pressure: Peer pressure pertains to the influence that a peer group, observers or a specific individual exerts. It can motivate you to change your attitudes, values, or behaviors to conform to group norms. Depending on the situation and the group, peer pressure can either be mentally distressing or encourage positive habits.
20. Stigma and Discrimination: Stigma and discrimination are harmful and unjust behaviors or prejudiced beliefs targeting specific groups or individuals. These can be based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or health status. Experiencing stigma and discrimination can trigger a range of negative mental health outcomes, such as low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety.
21. Trauma and Adversity: Trauma refers to intense physical or psychological distress resulting from past experiences, like abuse or violent events. It can have long-term debilitating effects on your mental health, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression. Overcoming trauma requires resilience and often professional help.
22. Sleep Pattern: Sleep pattern denotes the routine governing your sleeping and waking cycles. Sufficient, quality sleep is critical for maintaining cognitive functions and emotional health. Inconsistent or poor-quality sleep can lead to higher stress levels, and has been linked to mental health issues.
23. Physical Activity: Physical activity encompasses any form of exercise or body movement done as part of playing, working, active transportation, house chores, and recreational activities. Regular physical activity can decrease feelings of anxiety and depression, improve mood, and enhance sleep quality.
24. Diet and Nutrition: The type and amount of food you consume play a pivotal role in maintaining both physical and mental health. A balanced diet can boost cognitive functions, mood, and overall psychological well-being. On the other hand, poor nutrition can exacerbate stress, cause fatigue, and play a part in the development of mental health disorders.
25. Coping with Loss: Dealing with loss pertains to your process of experiencing and dealing with grief following the death of a loved one or loss of something significant. It’s a deeply personal experience that can lead to serious mental distress. Healthy coping involves acceptance, seeking support, and giving oneself time to heal.
Psychosocial factors paint a fuller picture of our health and well-being. They denote the ties between our minds, bodies, and societal structures (Dixson et al., 2016; McKee & Schüz, 2015). You must recognize the impact these factors can have on life in order to experience it in its entirety. These factors may appear invisible, but understanding them is like learning a new language that lets us communicate more effectively with the world and ourselves.
Dixson, D. D., Worrell, F. C., Olszewski‐Kubilius, P., & Subotnik, R. F. (2016). Beyond perceived ability: The contribution of psychosocial factors to academic performance. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1377(1), 67-77. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/nyas.13210
Farrell, B., Alabi, J., Whaley, P., & Jenda, C. (2017). Addressing psychosocial factors with library mentoring. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 17(1), 51-69.
Lekaviciene, R., & Antiniene, D. (2016). High emotional intelligence: Family psychosocial factors. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 217, 609-617. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2016.02.066
McKee, K. J., & Schüz, B. (2015). Psychosocial factors in healthy ageing. Psychology & Health, 30(6), 607-626. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/08870446.2015.1026905
Rahman, H. A., Abdul-Mumin, K., & Naing, L. (2016). A study into psychosocial factors as predictors of work-related fatigue. British Journal of Nursing, 25(13), 757-763. Doi: https://doi.org/10.12968/bjon.2016.25.13.757
Upton, J. (2020). Psychosocial factors. In Encyclopedia of behavioral medicine (pp. 1795-1797). Cham: Springer International Publishing.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]