1 How stress and vulnerability play a part
2 Vulnerability (the bucket)
3 Vulnerability factors (things that affect the size of your bucket)
4 Stress (water)
5 Things that can stress you out
6 Things that might help or make it worse (holes in the bucket)
7 Things that might help you (open up the holes in the bucket)
8 Things that could make things worse (block the holes in the bucket)

 

How stress and vulnerability play a part

The Stress-Vulnerability bucket is often used to help explain why people experience ‘psychotic’ experiences. These experiences are often quite strange or frightening such as hearing voices, or seeing or smelling things that others don’t. Other people experience changes in thinking: paranoia is a common example of this. The overflowing bucket is one way of thinking about how it works.

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Vulnerability (the bucket)

Everyone has some level of vulnerability to developing psychotic experiences; some people are highly vulnerable whilst others are less vulnerable. Using the bucket idea, vulnerability is the bucket.  People who are extremely vulnerable can be thought to be like small buckets and not able to deal with much water/stress going in before the bucket overflows. Those who have a very low vulnerability are like very large buckets with plenty of room to cope with lots of water/stress. The size of the bucket, in other words how vulnerable you are, is down to a lot of things.  The list below shows some things which affect the size of the bucket.

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Vulnerability factors (things that affect the size of your bucket)

• Mental illness in the family
• Stress at home
• Being bullied when you were younger
• Abuse as a child
• Loss of a parent when young
• Being placed in care by social services/part of the ‘looked after’ system
• Not feeling loved as a child
• Feeling as though you don’t fit in when you’re growing up
• Growing up in an inner city

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Stress (water)

Level of vulnerability is only one reason in explaining why people have psychotic experiences; the stress a person is experiencing at the time also seems to play a part. In the stress-vulnerability bucket, stress is compared to water coming into the bucket. If a lot of water comes into the bucket, in other words, if a person experiences a great deal of stress, then the bucket can overflow, which is when psychotic experiences can occur. People who have a low level of vulnerability can be compared to ‘big buckets’ that are able to cope with more stress (water) than those who have a high level of vulnerability – who are like small buckets.

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Things that can stress you out

• Relationship problems
• Exams
• Money problems
• Family problems
• Housing problems
• Problems at work, school or college
• Big changes happening in your life
• Being bullied
• Being a victim of assault or abuse
• Someone dying
• Loss of friends
• Physical illness
• Crime

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Things that might help or make it worse (holes in the bucket)

Certain things make it more or less likely that the bucket will overflow.  This can be like holes in the bottom of the bucket.  The holes are like a plughole in a bath.  As long as the plughole is unblocked and the water isn’t pouring in too fast, then the bath won’t overflow.  However, if the plughole gets blocked then it is much more likely that if the tap is running, even slowly, then the bath will overlflow.  The holes in the bottom of the bucket are like good and bad ways of coping.  Positive coping strategies allow most of us to deal with the everyday stresses and strains of day to day life without them getting too much for us.  Unfortunately some things have the effect of ‘blocking the holes’ whilst other ways of coping seem to ‘open up the holes’.

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Things that might help you (open up the holes in the bucket):

• Talk through your problems with someone
• Get a good night’s sleep if you can
• Take some regular exercise – a short walk is better than nothing.
• Try and get some structure into your day
• Eat well
• Taking prescribed medication

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Things that could make things worse (block the holes in the bucket)

• Taking street drugs
• Drinking too much alcohol
• Lack of sleep
• Avoiding people
• Keeping your problems to yourself
• Not looking after yourself

If you’ve got too much stuff stressing you out and you’re struggling to deal with it; it’s like the bucket overflowing.  This is when a person might experience psychosis.  

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