What role does stress play in mental illness?

Just chucking up what I wrote but forgot to actually publish in week 10… oops.

Stress plays a fundamental role in our functioning as human beings and in the development of society. It is defined as a normal physical response to threatening or upsetting events, which is generally considered an important part of our behaviour because it motivates us to meet deadlines and requirements, or to perform well under pressure. Further, the ‘stress response’ that we feel when our bodies believe that they are being threatened heightens our awareness and reactions, while also giving us extra energy to defend ourselves. That being said, excessive stress is unhealthy because it overwhelms us and thus negatively affects our ability to communicate, complete tasks and manage our lives properly.

This overwhelming kind of stress is a known contributor to mental illnesses such as extreme anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This is because while low amounts of stress (‘adequate’ acute stress, or stress that is not overwhelming) can improve productivity and motivation, excessive feelings of stress lead to irrational cognition and feelings of defeat and hopelessness. Furthermore, the pathophysiological significance of stress is huge because chronic stress disrupts various vital bodily systems. For example, it can raise blood pressure, suppress or increase appetite, contribute to infertility and speed up the aging process. Further, stress is a major contributor to unhealthy sleeping patterns that are commonly linked to mental illness. Most prominently amongst these is a condition called insomnia, which is the inability to fall or remain asleep for the desired amount of time, and is often linked to anxiety and depression.

Stress and Mental Illness

1. Esch, Tobias; Stefano, George B.; Fricchione, Gregory L.; Benson, Herbert (2002) The Role of Stress in Neurodegenerative Diseases and Mental Disorders, Neuroendocrinology Letters, Boston, USA, found at: http://www.nel.edu/pdf_w/23_3/NEL230302R02_Esch_rw.pdf – last viewed 8/4/2014

The Role of Stress in Neurodegenerative Diseases and Mental Disorders is a comprehensive source about how stress and anxiety affect mental disorders and cognitive decay. The authors begin by defining stress and discussing the history of our understanding of what stress is, why we feel it and how prominently it affects our societies, and continue by discussing various neurodegenerative diseases and how they may be caused or affected by stress. Furthermore, the subjects are related back to the biological perspective when the function of the hypothalamus pituitary gland and hippocampus work to maintain memory and thus cognition.

The language used in the article is concise and to the point, while also being accessible to amateur readers. Further, the logical layout is helpful in understanding the document and the concise abstract at the beginning gives a thorough description of the motivation behind the study, as well as the overall conclusion of the article.


2. Stress Symptoms, Signs & Causes – found at http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm – last viewed 9/4/2014

‘Helpguide.org’ is a ‘trusted non-profit resource’ that provides extensive information regarding lifestyle choices, mental health and child-rearing practices. This article gives a strong description of what stress is, how it is caused, the dangers of excess stress and how to avoid these problems associated with stress. As well as acknowledging the issues involving excess stress, the author also acknowledges that stress is an important part of our lifestyles and societies.

Due to the fact that the article is written with a popular audience in mind, it is written in understandable but factual language. The document also gives various examples that can be easily related to in order to give the reader entire comprehension of the concept. For example, later in the document there is a section that outlines how stress influences people differently and how we all are stressed by different things. It does this by outlining scenarios that include real situations of real people, allowing familiarity with the concepts in similar situations to the reader.

The website claims to be written by experts in order to help the reader resolve health challenges. The ‘About Us’ section of the website outlines the credentials of the writers and editors that contribute to the site and all have university qualification and experience in literary fields.