1. Understanding psychosis

The stress–vulnerability model

The role of stress and biological vulnerability in psychosis

If a person is born with or acquires a tendency to develop a specific medical problem, it is known as a “biological vulnerability.” Vulnerability doesn’t necessarily mean that problems will happen. However, if certain factors exist, a person has a higher risk of developing a problem and there is a higher risk of the problem being more severe. Some people have a biological vulnerability to psychosis. Researchers believe that the symptoms are caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Similar to medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, genetic factors play a role in a person’s vulnerability to psychosis. Similarly, people can be biologically vulnerable to developing mental health problems such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. The chances of a person developing psychosis are higher if a close relative has a psychiatric disorder.

Treatment for mental health problems involves decreasing stress (e.g., working to develop a strong social network) and finding ways to decrease vulnerability (e.g., developing better coping skills or using medication to help balance chemical processes in the brain). Although stress does not cause mental health problems, it can trigger them or make them worse.