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Causes of Mental Disorders

Causes of Mental Disorders


This lesson will explore the cause of mental disorders using the Stress Vulnerability Model.

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Introduction to Psychology

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What's Covered

This lesson is going to look at the causes of mental disorders by examining:

  1. Nature Vs. Nurture
  2. Stress-Vulnerability Model

1. Nature Vs. Nurture

It's important to identify what causes a mental disorder so the best treatment can be determined, but it can be difficult to determine which factors within a person have the most influence.

One way to highlight this is by looking at the debate of nature vs. nurture. Which one of these has the biggest effect on different kinds of psychological development?

Nature refers to any kind of innate biological and genetic factors that a person is born with or they develop normally over the course of their lives. These characteristics are the kind of internal factors that are difficult for a person to influence in any kind of way because it's something they're born with.

A mental disorder that heavily relies on the nature aspect is psychopathy or sociopathy. This is someone who is psychotic in some kind of way. Originally, a lot of psychologists thought that this was due to a person's abusive childhood, and that early mental trauma was what actually caused by the development of these mental disorders.

Recently, findings have shown that there are a lot of innate genetic factors that go into the development of sociopathy. A person who has a normal childhood can still develop psychopathy.

Nurture pertains to the environmental factors that shape a person. This includes influences like the culture a person grows up in, their childhood, their parents, early developments within their life,  and any kind of significant life events that might leave mental injury or shock on the person.

Psychological trauma are negative  psychological effects that cause large amounts of stress on a person, oftentimes resulting from violence, abuse, neglect or any kind of extreme stress that that person might have endured.

ExampleA phobia is something that develops due to nurture.  Large or unfounded fears of something typically form due to some kind of traumatic experience.

Term to Know

  • Psychological Trauma
  • Mental injury or shock resulting from violence, abuse, neglect, or extreme stress.

Another example would be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a disorder that develops as a result of severe psychological trauma. 

ExampleWhen soldiers return from a wartime setting, oftentimes the trauma of being within that setting causes them to develop this particular mental disorder.

2.Stress-Vulnerability Model

The psychologist Donald Hebb once answered the question about which one is more important (nature or nurture) by asking, which contributes more to the area of a rectangle: the length or its width? Both of them are equally important. So we need to consider both of them to have a full picture of psychological disorders.

The stress-vulnerability model is a theory of psychopathology which states that the cause of mental disorders is a combination of both biological and environmental approaches. Based on this notion, people are born with certain kinds of genetic susceptibility to a mental disorder, but it doesn't actually develop unless that person is exposed to some kind of environmental stresses or psychological trauma.

ExampleSchizophrenia has been shown to have a large biological component, but environmental factors are also related to its development. Factors such as prenatal nutrition, early childhood trauma, and family environment can all lead to the development of schizophrenia.

Term to Know

  • Stress-Vulnerability Model
  • A theory of the cause of mental disorders that combines biological and environmental approaches.


The role of nature vs. nurture in forming a mental disorder can help us understand the factors that cause these problems. Nature is the genetic factors a person is born with that can lead to a particular disorder. Nurture refers to factors from a person’s environment, such as nutrition or psychological trauma. The stress-vulnerability model is a theory of psychopathology which says that mental disorder is a combination of biological and environmental factors.

Keep up the learning and have a great day!

Source: This work is adapted from Sophia author Erick Taggart.

  • Psychological Trauma

    Mental injury or shock resulting from violence, abuse, neglect, or extreme stress.

  • Stress-Vulnerability Model

    A theory of the cause of mental disorders that combines biological and environmental approaches.