There are numerous theories and myths relating to why some people develop a mental illness.
One of the biggest myths is that it is a character flaw, a weakness but that is not the case – mental illness does not discriminate and can happen to ANYONE!
Some theories talk about biological, social and psychological factors. These include genetics, stress, bereavement, relationship breakdown, unemployment, social isolation and major physical illness or disability.
There has been much research into identifying why some people may be more prone to mental health issues and this involves risk and resilience factors. Risk factors increase the likelihood that mental health difficulties will develop whereas resilience (or protective) factors are thought of as strengths that enable people to maintain positive mental health and wellbeing even though risk factors may be present.
However, there is a complex interplay between risk and resilience factors. As the numbers of risks accumulate for people, more protective factors are needed to act as a counterbalance. Individuals are often able to cope, so long as the balance among risks, stressful life events and protective factors is manageable. When risk factors and stressful life events outweigh the protective factors, even the most resilient individual can develop problems.
A simple way of understanding this is with the stress bucket analogy.
Imagine that everyone has a bucket and they are all different sizes because we are all very different.
The size of your bucket is down to a lot of things, such as your personality, experiencing difficult times in your background, such as a bereavement, trauma, etc.
Now imagine stress as water filling the bucket. If a lot of water comes into the bucket, in other words, if a person experiences a great deal of stress, then the bucket can overflow. This is when mental health problems can occur.
People with big buckets can cope with more stress and people with small buckets can cope with less stress. There are many stressors in life such as relationship problems, work issues or family worries.
If you manage the stress using helpful ways of coping (such as talking through your problems with someone, exercising, mindfulness, etc) this is like punching holes in the bottom of the bucket and relieves the stress.
If you cope by doing unhelpful things (such as drinking too much alcohol, keeping your problems to yourself, etc) this is like blocking the holes in your bucket and makes the stress worse.
There’s not much any of us can do about the size of our buckets, but if you use helpful coping strategies to keep your stress low, then it is less likely that you will experience a mental illness.
Just us next time as we explore more about resilience and how we can increase our resilience levels.