Family Stress and Mental Health

Stress is any situation that causes one to strain and lack an expected level of comfort. Circumstances arise in one’s life that cause stress, which makes the victim uncomfortable. People cope and adapt to stressors in different styles. Some usually confront the situation head on, as they ponder about the resultant possible solutions. Others may learn to live with the situation especially if there is no clear possible solution to the situation. However, there is a section of the society that would simply escape the reality by resorting to taking drugs and alcoholic drinks. According to them, these substances are regarded as sedates from stressors. A real story of Phil Dorman who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after experiencing a sadistic child abuse, normal stress, and childhood trauma exhibits how parental mistreatment can cause tremendous stress in children. Through this example, the essay identifies family stress, the coping mechanisms and adaptation.

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Relationship to Class Topics – Family stress

Having been born in a family of five, Phil endured intensive tribulations resulting from his brutal parents. Nonetheless, the sadistic brutality never deterred Phil from responsibly assuming parental roles, protecting and fending for his siblings at a tender age of nine years. In the autobiography I Cry for Help’ Phil elucidates that, coping is the most important process when faced with stress and other related problems. The treatment that Phil receives from his parents is a sign that stress can as well be associated with ageing. People in the geriatric age usually grapple with a myriad of circumstances, most of which can trigger stress. For instance, mental illnesses are a probable challenge associated with aging and it majorly affects an individual’s thoughts, behaviors, as well as moods and emotions. Sometimes escalated aging tribulations amount to intense stress that translates in mental illnesses. Such ailments comprise a wide range of ailments such as bipolar disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, major depressive disorder and panic disorder. In other situations, the situation could also result from genetic make-up of the victims. Whenever an aged person undergoes diagnosis of a chronic mental illness, the outcome could be shocking to the entire family. In the case of Phil’s parents, their stress emanated from the interactions between them and the unfavorable environment within which they have lived. These interactions are perceived to be exceeding or straining especially to their adaptive abilities, which end up threatening the well-being of the children as well. The perception element indicates that the response to human stress reflects differently in personality, general health or physical strength.

Besides, mental instability, stress also has other symptoms such as physical, emotional and behavioral volatility. Regarding the physical symptoms, an individual especially the aged could experience muscle tension, sweaty or cold hands, ulcers, joint or back pains, fatigue, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, and indigestion. Emotional symptoms involve fear, guilt, anxiety, hopelessness, depression, irritability, helplessness, depression, and nervousness. Behaviorally, the victim may suffer senility that is characterized by forgetfulness. Some may also turn aggressive, and experience the alteration of their appetite, social withdrawal, indecisiveness, and low productivity, increased abuse of substances, sleep disorders and angry outburst. Other than the stressed parents, Phil Dorman too has clearly indicated that the brutal treatment he received from his parents greatly affected him emotionally thereby triggering stress. In fact, Phil was detached from other children of his age while growing up, which largely affected his childhood behavior.  

Coping and Adaptation

There are distinct classes of theories, which reiterate the specific connection between bodily stress and the external demands, which are stressors. First are the prevalent approaches to systematic stress linked to psychobiology and physiology, as well as, the approach to psychological stress, which is structured within the cognitive psychology. According to Selye’s theory, any event that ends up threatening the well-being of an individual, results in a three-phased response to his or her body system. These stages entail the alarm, resistance and exhaustion. Seyle further gave details about hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis system, which often prepares one’s body in coping with the prevailing stress. Seyle has also delved on the local adaptation syndrome referring to the repair processes and inflammatory response occurring at the tissue injury as in topical or small injuries.

Accordingly, stage one is the alarm stage, which entails the reaction of the body once it encounters the stressors. At this initial stage, there is the activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The body further releases the adrenaline and cortisol into one’s bloodstream in a bid to counter the danger or threat. During the alarm stage, the resources of the body are mobilized. The second stage is also referred to as the resistance stage. In the case of Phil’s family, the parents have possibly gone through all the three stages and the only thing possible is them to cope. In particular, the fact that Phil has taken the initiative to look after his siblings is a clear indication that he has accepted and is coping with the condition. 

Regarding the cognitive appraisal theory, Folkman and Lazarus emphasize the mental processes that influence the stressor. Lazarus explains that stress is normally a two-way process, the environmental production of stressors, and the resultant response of an individual who experiences these stressors. The behaviors of the members of family in the book I Cry for Help’ have exhibited going through the aforementioned processes. According to Lazarus’ conception, cognitive appraisal occurs once one considers two main points, which largely contribute to an individual’s response to stress. As observed in Phil’s family, these factors entail the tendency of stress to threaten an individual and the resources appraisal in trying to minimize, eradicate or tolerate the stress and the stressor it produces.

Based on the book I Cry for Help, the resource theories of stress do not mainly deal with factors leading to the creation of stress. This theory mainly focuses on the individual’s well-being when encountered by a stressful situation. Some of the personal and social constructs that characterize the member of Phil’s family include a sense of coherence, optimism, social support and self-efficacy. The optimism and self-efficacy are regarded as single protective factors while a sense of coherence and hardiness signify tripartite approaches. Hardiness comprises of three important components; commitment, sense of challenge and the prevailing internal control. On the other hand, coherence comprises of the belief of these family members that the world is benevolent, meaningful and predictable. 


Going through stressful situations can sometimes be confounding especially if there is no apparent way out of the situation. Nothing hurts, like facing the reality of living with a stressful life the rest of one’s life. In any case, it is better to learn how to cope and adapt to what one cannot change unlike seeking means of escaping reality. In this case, Phil’s family made the wisest choice of coping because it became the best way of dealing with the situation of their kind.  According to Phil, dealing with stress could be tricky at times. He further reiterates that to deal with stress, one has to apply appropriate coping strategies that will help in mitigating the effects of stress in before it escalates to alarming levels. These strategies include trait-oriented and macro-analytic coping theories. Most of their trait-oriented approaches have mainly focused on two important constructs in regards to understanding cognitive stress response. Vigilance is the prevailing orientation concerning a stressful aspect of a situation while the cognitive avoidance refers to the action of averting attention from stressful information.

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