Again, I take a stance that I will continue to reprise as often as it takes for it to be understood: every one of us has psychological issues - we just differ on a continuum of distress and malfunction. However, the question remains: why do some people develop certain issues more than others?
The fallacy, of course, is that such a narrow-minded approach not only fogs the complexities of how psychological issues develop but indeed it overshadows how any difficulty develops in general. Take for example a recent graduate who’s unemployed. A common attribution we often make is that this person is too lazy to find work - “seriously though, if he really wanted to, he would have found something by now.” Naturally, this line of thinking is ludicrous, and even the least insightful person already suspects several other obvious variables at play: the economy, over-saturation of graduates in that field, etc. However, a key issue I would like to highlight are not the obvious variables that contribute to unemployment, but rather the hidden ones we often neglect. For instance, perhaps the education system itself is not adequately training individuals for the current job market, and thus the guy’s chances of finding work substantially declined by depending too much on his degree. Or perhaps if we zoom out a little further, the person was taught from a younger age “to only go for the best,” and thus he carries this philosophy into his job search, readily overlooking employment positions that don’t fit his standards. So you see, the past is implicated in life’s circumstances just as much as the present, and this analogy accurately mirrors the plethora of issues we encounter in our lives as well – be it psychological, or otherwise.
Bear in mind that the same variable (i.e. the economy in the above example) affects everyone differently; we’re all affected by a worsening economy, yet only a select group of individuals suffer from it. This same principle applies to psychological issues very well, and it underlines my essential problem with labels such as depression, bipolar, etc.; of course, Allah has created us all with similar mechanisms (i.e. emotions) that malfunction when deregulated, yet the symptoms of the deregulation tell us very little with regards to the cause of the malfunction. Take for example two people whose mothers passed away – one develops depression, the other doesn’t. Why?
Introducing the model: [Protective factors] x [Risk factors] = Resilience
The exercise here is two-fold:
1) To be able to zoom out and examine the plethora of different contexts – the ones we often neglect - that affect an individual, similarly to what we just did in the example above. According to a very basic model introduced by Urie Bronfenbrenner, there are five major contexts that one must take into consideration if we were to examine all the possible influences on an individual: the person themselves, i.e. their genetic predispositions and personality traits; the microsystem, which covers the social surroundings of that individual i.e. family, friends, and colleagues; the mesosystem implicates the relationships within the social surroundings that affect the individual, i.e. the spouse/family relationship; the exosystem consists of the various institutions and structures in the individual’s environment, i.e. health care service accessibility; and finally the macrosystem, which incorporates elements such as culture or ideological specificities of the larger society that affect the individual, i.e. discrimination.
2) To realize that there is never one specific variable that is the cause of a psychological issue; naturally, there are many, all found within the individual contexts we just listed above – we call these causes risk factors. Furthermore, the causes of psychological issues alone provide an incomplete analysis; to truly see a bigger picture as to how psychological issues develop, one must also examine those factors in an individual’s life that prevent issues from developing despite the presence of causes – these are called protective factors. Risk and protective factors interact on an individual’s resilience towards psychological issues; in a nutshell, if the risk factors outweigh the protective factors - thereby lowering a person’s resilience towards psychological difficulties – then the stakes are raised that this individual may suffer from some type of psychological distress in the future.
Now, if we combine points one and two, we begin to appreciate how millions of different risk and protective factors interact within the different contexts to produce psychological distress. Let me provide a few VERY basic examples that illustrate what I've just described above; the red text represent risk factors, the blue text represent protective factors, and the 'x' in between suggest an interaction (these examples are completely imaginary, so don’t draw any conclusions):
[Genetic predisposition for depression] x [supportive group of friends] x [attentive parents] = increased resilience towards depression (less likely to get depressed)
[Abusive parents] x [discrimination towards Muslims] = decreased resilience towards anxiety (more likely to suffer from anxiety)
Again, these examples ARE NOT blueprints as to how depression or anxiety develop; in fact, research in developmental psychopathology is only beginning to appreciate which risk and protective factors actually play a significant role. Rather, the examples demonstrate why it’s so difficult to respond to individuals who are just looking for something to point at and say: “THAT’S the cause of all my problems right now.” Although convenient – and human beings habitually simplify complex processes for the sake of something to blame - it’s just erroneous.
In conclusion, there are millions upon millions of different interactions that occur among risk and protective factors that contribute to an individual’s resilience, and thus it’s ludicrous to just pick one out and blacklist it. Now that we’ve begun to appreciate the complexities of psychopathology, the next article will discuss three specific variables that appear to dramatically influence our resilience: parents, friends, and religiosity. A specific emphasis will be placed on religiosity which can, under the right circumstances, be an incredible protective factor among Muslims,.