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When Your Home Is Not a Haven: How Millennials Environment Is Damaging Their Mental Health 

The first time I encountered mental illness, I was twelve. 

By fourteen, I saw physical, mental, emotional, and social abuse that psychiatrists now call trauma. 

Today, Millennials and Gen Z are 27% more likely to report mental health issues than any previous generation. But too many of us suffer alone. I did. 1

We all know many things can impact our mental health, from the way we think or feel to the relationships and situations we face. 

But behind the scenes, there is something impacting your mental health you may not be aware of. At least I wasn’t. 

I call it a slow poison and am talking about your environment. And that’s what this article will cover – how does your personal environment impact your mental health, and what can you do about it?

What is Your Environment?

Your environment includes your place — where you live and spend your time —  but it also includes people —   your family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and your culture. 

As a teen, I thought my environment was normal. Sure, it had its quirks, but I assumed everyone grew up like me – listening to my parents scream and slam doors, becoming the second parent in my home, surrounded by drug addicts, alcoholics, and abuse. 

The Stats

But while many may live in conditions similar to mine or worse, that doesn’t make those environments any more normal, safe or trauma-free

Just look at these stats.

If you grew up in a home impacted by divorce or parental problems, you’re two to three times more likely to develop anxiety and engage in similar life-threatening relationships.2

If you witnessed poverty or substance abuse, you’re significantly more likely to experience poverty or become chemically dependent.3-4, 7

If you experienced unsafe or unhealthy social communities as a child you’re now two to three times more likely to develop depression, intrusive thoughts, and sleep problems.2

None of this means you can’t beat the odds. It just means you have more stacked against you.

What Happens When You Ignore Your Personal Environment 

At twenty-six, I now see the effects of my toxic home life. 

While I grew up in a primarily Christian home, I still experienced trauma from my half-brother’s substance abuse and my father’s mental and physical health issues. 

Until I had to unpack it, I didn’t realize I would carry this trauma with me for the rest of my life. Have you realized this?

As a teacher, I see first-hand the damage of a toxic environment.

Taryn, who grew up in a divorced household filled with verbal abuse, developed bipolar at eleven and attempted suicide at seventeen. 

Tyler, whose father committed suicide when he was just a child, would later suffer from anxiety and depressive symptoms himself.

Jessy, who grew up in a physically abusive home, now struggles with an eating disorder and wonders if her life is even worth living. 

The stories are endless.

The faces are innumerable.

The struggles are often hidden.

But their significance is the same.

We don’t realize the damage caused by our personal environment until the damage is done. And as Christians, that is something we need to change. 

3 Action Steps for Navigating An Unhealthy Environment

If you live in a toxic environment, know I have been in your shoes. So have Taryn, Tyler, Jessy, and hundreds I have interviewed and researched.

Many of us face the constant tension of loving the people around us while learning to distance ourselves from them to protect our sanity. But what does this practically look like?

1. Set Boundaries

For me, this looked like setting firm boundaries with my dad and my half-brothers. I prayed for my father while seeking a safe space at my grandma’s. And though I still live at home, I have learned to reduce the number of hours I spend around him, especially if he is being verbally abusive or physically aggressive.

As Proverbs 22:24-25 of the New International Version notes, ”Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared” (‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭22:24-25‬ ‭New International Version).

Anger and malicious behaviors can be contagious. They are devastating to our mental health. 

But even though my dad’s behaviors can be toxic, I am still called and convicted to love him. The reality is that by limiting my interactions with him when he’s in these moods, I can actually love him better. For example, spending quality time with him when he’s acting appropriately, not only reduces my trauma but protects the relationship I want to restore with him. 

With my cocaine-addicted half-brothers, setting boundaries and living with a humble spirit looked like sharing the Gospel, but not giving them money when they pleaded with me. Today, it often looks like ignoring certain messages when I know they are motivated by bribery or greed, and instead, responding with love. 

2. Reach Out

The second thing that significantly helped my mental health was talking to others about it. Growing up, I was often told I didn’t need counseling or was crazy if I sought out help. But it was working with someone I trusted that made things better. And I found that help by using free and low-cost sources for counseling through college, and later, safe workspaces and co-workers whom I felt could support me. 

There is a reason the book of Proverbs tells us the heartfelt counsel of a friend is sweet incense:

“​​Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of a friend springs from their heartfelt advice” (Proverbs 27:9, New International Version). 

But when it comes to our mental health, solely reaching out to others isn’t enough. Without seeking God and His Word, it will all be in vain. We’ll still be in the dark. And as Christians, seeking help from Him must be a priority. 

Becoming more open about my struggles with my counselor helped me open up more to trusted friends and God. It brought my environment to the light. And that’s how Jesus heals the dark things within us. 

For many years I kept my story under wraps. I shared certain parts of my mental health struggles while keeping others under lock and key. But it wasn’t until I was vulnerable with my story that God began to transform hopeless situations into testimonies I’d use to help others heal. 

3. Seek God’s Truth

The final action step for navigating your personal environment requires you to look beyond what is seen, and seek God’s truth. That looks like continually reaching out to Him in prayer, worship, Scripture reading, and fellowship even when you feel hopeless. Telling Him what is on your mind and allowing His Light to shine through the broken places of your heart. 

Amid our struggles, we have to remember The Truth of Jesus Christ and His Word beyond the feelings, limits, and understanding of our present situation. With God, there is hope. Hope in who God is, and what we are able to overcome because of His Spirit within us.

“No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us” (Romans 8:37, New International Version). 

Here on earth, victory is not always seen. 

Sometimes things like trauma and mental health take time. 

Victories for Taryn, Tyler, and Jessy, didn’t happen overnight. Neither did mine. And my story still isn’t done.

Yet, I am confident that the God who created me will finish His work. God is for me. He has a future for me. He will not give up on me. He is a loving Father. He cares and sees what I am going through. 

By internalizing God’s Word on a personal level, we can begin to see beyond our personal environment. And though it is a process, it will enable us to view our situations through the lens of His Word. 

As we do, we will find hope, correction, rebuke, challenge, grace, and healing at all times and seasons. Especially while we’re still struggling.

There Is Hope

While it can be hard and sometimes painful to face the reality that your personal environment is toxic and unhealthy, we have to accept that to move forward and protect ourselves. It is not easy to be a Christian who struggles with mental health. 

Over a decade ago the chaos in my personal environment began. And as a result, I have faced painful long-term consequences and conditions. So have many others. 

But there is hope and healing is possible. 

God has given us tools to fight mental health issues so we never have to face them alone. Setting boundaries, reaching out, and acknowledging your environment while seeking God’s truth are just three I’ve highlighted here. 

As we fight these battles, let us not forget His promise to never leave us or forsake us.