A psychological explanation to mental health problems
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Health and Wellness

All Of Our Adversity Can Be Explained By Maslow's Hierarchy Of 5 Crucial Needs

A psychological explanation of modern times from the 20th century.

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Elliott Chau

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was born in 1908 and died in 1970. He was mentored by Alfred Alder, one of Sigmund Frued's friends and colleagues. Arguably his best work, was his theory of the "Hierarchy of Needs" published in 1943. Maslow thought of human behavior as a collection of needs, beginning with the basics of what we need for survival and ending with what we need to feel happy and "whole." He described each of these as being fluid, meaning that people may feel the need to address one or more of these factors at the same time.

With the mental health epidemic going on the world today, it's comforting to know that the reoccurring problems we can't seem to pinpoint may be identified on a simple, easy-to-read pyramid. By no means are anybody's stories the same or simple, but Maslow's theory takes a potentially convoluted problem and breaks it down into something a little less overwhelming.

1. Physiological.

Neven Krcmarek

The bottom portion of Maslow's hierarchy contains our physiological needs, which have a lot to do with basic biology. We have the need to breathe, eat, sleep, drink, and keep our bodies in a state of homeostasis. Most of us are lucky enough to be in good health and have these needs met. However, there are instances where a lack of these factors can cause someone's mental health to deteriorate.

Most people I know don't fear being able to feed themselves every day, find water, or have a place to sleep. But just because you may not be at risk of death due to these factors doesn't mean that they're not affecting you more than you think. Lack of sleep, a proper diet, and dehydration can all be a major trigger contributing to our mental health problems.

Harvard Medical School summarized a study that illustrated that people with insomnia were 5 times more likely to develop depression, and 20 times more likely to develop anxiety. When we enter REM sleep, our brains improve on their learning skills, memory, receptiveness, focus, etc. When REM sleep is disrupted, it also disrupts our stress hormones and neurotransmitters and amplifies our symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue, and hyperactivity.

Diet is also a huge contributing factor. If you're not supplying your body with the right nutrients, you're gonna feel tired, unmotivated, and physically weak. The lining of our gut is actually made up of 90 percent serotonin, a neurotransmitter responsible for our emotions and social behavior, suggesting that gut health directly correlates to brain health.

The human body can only survive up to a week without water, compared to 3 weeks without food. But the symptoms of dehydration come into play after just a few hours. Lack of water leads to a lack of oxygen circulation in the body, including the brain. A lack of oxygen in the brain leads to a lack of cognitive function, which negatively affects your mood, feelings, focus, and thoughts.

2. Safety.

Simon Rae

Safety alludes to many other things than just imminent physical danger. Maslow described safety as a sense of security in employment, family, resources, and property. If you're looking for a job, a place to live, or don't feel secure in your relationships with family, you may be experiencing an increase in the production of cortisol, our stress hormone, which serves as a trigger for mental health symptoms.

3. Love/Belonging.

Toa Heftiba

The next portion of Maslow's hierarchy has to do with feelings of belonging in intimate relationships. A lot of people attribute loneliness to the fact that they don't have a love interest, or their circle of friends isn't big enough, or their family doesn't stay in touch. That sense of isolation could be the cause of chronic depression or cause you to feel alienated, which is never good for mental health.

4. Esteem.

Levi Saunders

As the hierarchy gets smaller, self-esteem comes into play. This includes everything from physical/emotional confidence, to respect for oneself, to respect for others. Self-love is no joke. The topic gets misconstrued by health advocates who claim that a bubble bath and a workout can propel us into living the lives we've always envisioned. And while that may be the case in some situations, it's by no means a cure-all. The real gain in self-esteem comes from the lessons we learn, being honest with ourselves, focusing on the positive, and working hard for what we want.

5. Self-Actualization.

Anthony Tran

The last portion of Maslow's hierarchy is self-actualization, which is what we tend to after all of our other needs have been met, and it's often where questions like "What is the point of life?" originate. Self-actualization is where all of our creativity happens, where we experiment with finding our passion, accepting our differences, solving problems, and finding joy in spontaneity. This is where your comfort zone ends, and fear isn't as much of a factor in your decisions. These are often described as the little moments in life, which over time, come to be the big things.


The National Alliance of Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience some sort of mental illness in a given year. If you fall into that category, refer back to this hierarchy and reflect on which areas of your life are causing/adding to the issues you're experiencing. You might just be able to pinpoint what's wrong, and then work to come up with a solution.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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