The stresses and strains we experience through life appear to play a role in triggering psychotic episodes. Logically enough, these are more serious in early adulthood – precisely when the illness usually starts.
Pressure at university, moving away from home, military service, a person’s first job, unemployment, the development of close relationships and becoming independent can be experienced as stressful by young people. In other words: if precisely this stress exceeds what precisely this young person’s psychological coping mechanism can handle, it may trigger a psychotic state. We then usually speak of there being an underlying vulnerability or predisposition, so that this pressure can be enough to trigger illness.
If we disregard the psychosis cases caused by medications, alcohol or brain damage, we can assume that there is always an element of stress as the background for a person developing a psychotic episode. Major stressful events, such as a death in the family, loss of a job or break-up of a relationship appear to worsen the psychotic symptoms, or they can trigger a new episode. However, drug abuse is also a kind of stress for the brain, a chemical stress, so basically it can be two sides of the same coin.
It’s actually a good idea for everyone to reduce the stress in their lives. This is even more important for someone with a psychotic disorder, and it applies to social, psychological and chemical stress in the form of narcotics or alcohol. It is a good idea to help the ill person find out what is causing anxiety or stress, so that these situations can be avoided. One of the aims of cognitive therapy is to facilitate stress reduction, both through practical advice and by reducing the perception of stress in given situations.