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Health behaviours or lifestyle factors include actions taken which increase or decrease a person’s health (1). Examples include physical activity, nutrition, sleep, adherence to medication and substance misuse.



Risk and/or Protective Factor

Health behaviours can be protective factors for mental health. For example, physical activity has been associated improving mental health and decreasing symptoms of mental health difficulties like depression (2). Sleep, adherence to medication, and avoiding substance misuse have been linked to reductions in psychotic and depressive symptoms (3,4).

Nutrition can be both a protective and risk factor for mental health. While Mediterranean diets have been linked to protecting from depression, diets rich in processed meat, sweet desserts, fried food and high-fat dairy products have been associated to increased vulnerability to depression (5,6). Caffeine is a further risk factor, as it has been associated with increased anxiety in people with anxiety disorders (7). Similarly, higher alcohol use increases the risk of depression (8).

Health behaviours can be influenced by advertisements and industries’ profit motives (9).



1.        Short SE, Mollborn S. Social determinants and health behaviors: Conceptual frames and empirical advances [Internet]. Vol. 5, Current Opinion in Psychology. Elsevier; 2015 [cited 2021 Jan 11]. p. 78–84. Available from: /pmc/articles/PMC4511598/?report=abstract

2.        Schuch FB, Vancampfort D, Richards J, Rosenbaum S, Ward PB, Stubbs B. Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias. J Psychiatr Res. 2016 Jun 1;77:42–51.

3.        Freeman D, Sheaves B, Goodwin GM, Yu LM, Nickless A, Harrison PJ, et al. The effects of improving sleep on mental health (OASIS): a randomised controlled trial with mediation analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2017 Oct 1;4(10):749–58.

4.        Zygmunt A, Olfson M, Boyer CA, Mechanic D. Interventions to Improve Medication Adherence in Schizophrenia. Am J Psychiatry. 2002;159(10):1653–64.

5.        Sánchez-Villegas A, Delgado-Rodríguez M, Alonso A, Schlatter J, Lahortiga F, Serra-Majem L, et al. Association of the Mediterranean dietary pattern with the incidence of depression: The Seguimiento Universidad de Navarra/University of Navarra follow-up (SUN) cohort. Arch Gen Psychiatry [Internet]. 2009 Oct 1 [cited 2021 Feb 3];66(10):1090–8. Available from:

6.        Akbaraly TN, Brunner EJ, Ferrie JE, Marmot MG, Kivimaki M, Singh-Manoux A. Dietary pattern and depressive symptoms in middle age. Br J Psychiatry [Internet]. 2009 [cited 2021 Feb 3];195(5):408–13. Available from:

7.        Nardi AE, Lopes FL, Freire RC, Veras AB, Nascimento I, Valença AM, et al. Panic disorder and social anxiety disorder subtypes in a caffeine challenge test. Psychiatry Res [Internet]. 2009 Sep 30 [cited 2021 Feb 3];169(2):149–53. Available from:

8.        Boden JM, Fergusson DM. Alcohol and depression. Addiction [Internet]. 2011 May [cited 2021 Mar 1];106(5):906–14. Available from:

9.        Holkar M, Lees C. A SAFER BET? 2020 Jul.