The Diathesis-Stress Model
As we discussed previously, no one psychological school of thought really explains mental illness. Therefore, a more general approach which is not tied to any psychological school of thought seems to be the best way to go. The diathesis-stress model incorporates the biological, psychological, and environmental conditions which can lead to a mental illness. Furthermore, the clinician is not tied to any psychological paradigm such as the learning, cognitive, or biological theories. The diathesis-stress model will take the good from each of these theories to define and treat mental illness.
Basically, the diathesis-stress model determines that a mental disorder such as schizophrenia requires a predisposition towards contracting the disease (diathesis). It then takes into consideration the environment in which the mentally ill are placed in and the stress or toll on the mind. All three factors must be present in order for the mental disorder to surface.
This model explains why a person who has a predisposition to a mental illness such as schizophrenia or depression but lives in a happy healthy environment may never contract the disease. Similarly, a person who is depressed, and lives in a hopeless or chaotic environment who does not have the predisposition for these diseases may never suffer from them.
Types of biological factors which could lead to a predisposition for a mental disorder include oxygen deprivation during child birth and poor nutrition during childhood. These two factors almost always lead to some kind of brain damage (mild or severe).
Psychological factors can be serious traumatic events in a person’s life which leads to a mental disorder such as depression, post- traumatic stress disorder, and so on. These heavy duty psychological stressors could be rape, death of a spouse or love one, losing a job and so on. The smaller stresses that could lead to a mental disorder, could be not achieving the goals one wanted in life. Each person’s comfort level is different and that comfort level to combat the daily events of life will be a major factor in determining or predicting a mental illness.
In other words one person may be able to deal with the fact that their dream career never came to fruition and find a different career which is also worthwhile. While another person might be forever bitter that the dream job never materialized and end up with a severe depression.
The positive side to the diathesis-stress model is that people who have a predisposition for a mental disorder will not necessarily come down with it just because one of their parents or both may have it. On the other hand, people who have had terrible lives, such as holocaust survivors may be incredibly resilient and don’t come down with a mental disorder either.