Managing Conflict in Relationships​

The stress-vulnerability-coping model of mental illness can help people with a mental illness, and their carers, to recognise important factors that influence the likelihood of mental illness recovery or relapse. Sometimes, it may also be useful in understanding how mental illnesses arise in the first place.

Whilst this model was originally devised to understand the onset and course of schizophrenia, it is now used to understand all major psychiatric disorders, including depression, bi-polar disorder, and psychosis.

According to the stress-vulnerability-coping model of mental illness, when a person is vulnerable to a mental illness, there are factors that make it more likely that mental illness symptoms will emerge (risk factors), and there are factors that make it less likely that symptoms will emerge (protective factors).

Both risk and protective factors may include aspects of a person’s biology, personal attributes, and/or environment.
Importantly, it is the interaction of these risk and protective factors that influence the likelihood of symptoms occurring in a vulnerable person.

Risk Factors


  • A family history of mental illness (e.g. a family history of psychosis and certain personality disorders are associated with an increased vulnerability to psychosis)
  • Brain abnormalities
  • Neuro-developmental problems
  • Other diseases (e.g. cancer)

Personal attributes

  • Development of poor social skills
  • Development of poor coping skills
  • Communication problems


  • Substance abuse
  • Work/school problems
  • Rejection by others
  • Stressful relationships
  • Low social supports
  • Major life events

More about risk factors…

  • None of the risk factors are the whole cause of mental illness
  • When there are a number of risk factors in the one person then that person is more vulnerable to mental illness
  • When someone has all possible risk factors there is still only a 40 percent chance that they will develop mental illness.

Protective factors

When the following factors are present, a person is not only protected from suffering a relapse of their mental illness but they can be protected from developing an illness in the first place. These factors include:

  • Good physical health
  • No family history of mental illness
  • Good coping skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Adequate social support
  • Medication
  • Talk Therapy (where appropriate)

Useful references

Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria

Mental Health Services Website (Vic)

National Alliance of the Mentally Ill (NAMI) (USA)

Mental Health Council of Australia

SANE Australia

Beyond Blue

Mental Illness Fellowship of Victoria fact sheets

Understanding psychosis

Family and carer supports and services

What can friends and family do to help a person experiencing mental illness?

Understanding schizophrenia

Understanding bipolar disorder


Marinda Reynecke

Marinda Reynecke

Counselling Psychologist

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