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It’s tempting to look for someone to blame for mental health problems and it’s quite common to blame yourself. You might have been spending time looking back at things that have happened  in the life of your friend or relative, looking for the thing that caused the problem.  You might remember a stressful time, a relationship break up, a house or school move or genetics and a history of mental health problems in your family. You might think if only I had been a better mum, dad, sister, brother, relative, friend. Or, you might blame someone else in the family or even the young person themselves, and think ‘If only this hadn’t happened, everything would be alright’ or ‘if only they’d stuck up for themselves at school and not let people get at them’ or ‘if only they hadn’t taken drugs or fallen in with the wrong crowd’.

The reality is no-one’s to blame for mental health problems.

What we do know is that lots of different things all contribute a little bit towards starting off a mental health problem. Some of these are life stresses, and some of these are general sensitivities that you are born with (your genes) that make it more likely that you develop one mental health problem or another. But, what we do know is that mental health problems aren’t caused by one gene or one stressful event or action. People can experience psychosis symptoms for lots of different reasons, like when you don’t get  sleep for a long time, take drugs, have epilepsy, or have a lot of stress or trauma.

Mental health problems are common: one out of every ten teenagers, and one out of every four adults will have one mental health problem or another, and lots more people will experience considerable stress. Mental health is just the same as physical health. For example, some people are more prone to psychosis, others to depression, others to heart disease and others to asthma. We can’t get rid of all the risks, but just like exercise reduces the risk of heart disease, there are things we can do to reduce the risk of mental health problems too. Life is stressful at times and we can’t avoid that. In fact avoiding stress can actually make stress worse, but we can limit its impact, so that young people recover more quickly and are less likely to have another episode of the same problem.

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The EYE Project is a research project supported by:

Sussex Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, Swandean, Arundel Road, Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 3EP