Why Stress May Trigger Mental Disorder?

Why do you think stress may trigger mental disorders? Well, let;s find out.

Stress is a common human experience, often felt in response to pressures or demands. However, it’s not just a temporary discomfort; it can have long-lasting effects on mental health. This article will explore the possible connections between stress and mental disorders, focusing on the South African context, and using theories and factual examples to support the argument. The relationship between stress and mental health is complex, and understanding this connection is vital for both prevention and treatment of mental disorders.

Why Stress May Trigger Mental Disorder?

Stress may trigger mental disorder because of its profound impact on the body’s physiological and psychological well-being. Chronic or overwhelming stress activates the body’s “fight or flight” response, leading to changes in hormone levels and brain function. In the South African context, this can be exacerbated by unique socio-economic challenges, contributing to a higher susceptibility to stress. Theories like the General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) Theory and the Diathesis-Stress Model support this connection. The GAS Theory explains how long-term stress without relief can lead to exhaustion, possibly triggering mental disorders like depression or anxiety. The Diathesis-Stress Model posits that stress can be a trigger for those predisposed to mental disorders. For example, a South African with a family history of schizophrenia might be more prone to developing the disorder when faced with significant stress. These underlying mechanisms, coupled with the specific challenges faced in South Africa, illustrate why stress might not just be a temporary strain but a potential trigger for mental disorders.

The Definition of Stress

Introduction to Stress

Stress is a physical, mental, or emotional strain that occurs when there is a mismatch between the demands placed on a person and their ability to cope with those demands. It can be caused by various factors, such as work pressures, relationship problems, financial difficulties, and societal issues.

Stress in the South African Context

In South Africa, many factors contribute to stress, such as high unemployment rates, economic inequality, and social disparities. The country’s history and ongoing challenges with racial tension can also add to the daily pressures faced by many South Africans.

The Connection between Stress and Mental Disorders

Introduction to the Connection

Stress is not always harmful, and it can sometimes even be beneficial by motivating individuals to achieve their goals. However, when stress becomes chronic or overwhelming, it can trigger mental disorders.

Theories Supporting the Connection

  1. General Adaptation Syndrome (GAS) Theory: This theory by Hans Selye explains how stress can affect the body’s physiological response. If stress continues for a prolonged period without adequate coping mechanisms, it can lead to mental and physical exhaustion, possibly triggering mental disorders such as depression or anxiety.
  2. Diathesis-Stress Model: This theory posits that individuals have a predisposition (diathesis) for developing mental disorders, and stress can act as a trigger. For example, someone with a family history of schizophrenia might be more susceptible to developing the disorder when exposed to significant stress.

South African Examples

In South Africa, studies have shown a strong connection between stress and mental disorders. For instance, a 2017 research paper reported that South African students experiencing high levels of stress were more prone to mental health problems, such as anxiety disorders.

How to Mitigate the Effects of Stress

Introduction to Mitigation

Understanding the relationship between stress and mental disorders is key to prevention and treatment. By employing proper strategies, it’s possible to reduce the risk of mental health issues arising from stress.

Techniques and Support Systems

  1. Professional Counselling: Mental health professionals can provide therapy and support to help individuals deal with stress and prevent it from leading to mental disorders.
  2. Community Support: South Africa has various community-based organizations that provide support and counselling for those dealing with stress. Connecting with these groups can provide valuable emotional support.
  3. Educational Programs: Schools and communities can offer education on stress management techniques, such as relaxation exercises, mindfulness, and positive thinking strategies.


Stress is a complex phenomenon that can significantly impact mental health, particularly in the unique socio-economic landscape of South Africa. Theories like the General Adaptation Syndrome and the Diathesis-Stress Model offer insights into how stress may trigger mental disorders. By understanding this relationship, South Africans can take proactive steps to mitigate the effects of stress, utilizing professional counselling, community support, and education. The examples provided in this article showcase the real-life implications of these theories and underline the importance of addressing this critical public health issue in South Africa.

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