Stress and the immune syste

Another strength is that many treatments for abnormality have been developed based on the biological model such as drug treatment. However drug treatment can have negative side effects, it can lead to physical and psychological dependence. In addition, it may only treat the symptom of a disorder rather than its cause. However, many psychiatrists argue that drugs can relieve extremely distressing symptoms and place people in a better frame of mind to overcome their disorder.

Supporters of the biological model would claim that another of its strengths is that it is a more humane model than alternatives. It portrays psychological disorder as an illness, that is, as something that just happens to a person. No blame is attached to the individual for suffering from the disorder. This contrasts with some approaches that imply that some people can not cope with life or have brought their disorder upon themselves. However critics are doubtful that it really helps to see a disorder as an illness since this encourages the ‘patient’ to depend on the ‘doctor’ and not to take any personal responsibility for their own recovery.

Consider whether research supports a link between stress and the immune system (18) Kiecolt-Glaser et al (1995) used a volunteer sample of 26 women aged between 47-81 years. 13 of the women were carers and were placed in the experimental group, 13 were matched with the carers on the basis of age and income but not marital status and were placed in the control group. The ‘carers’ were women who were caring for relatives suffering from senile dementia, a task that has been shown to be associated with chronic stress. All participants were given a wound (‘a punch biopsy’). The wounds were dressed and treated by a nurse in the same way for each participant. The researchers also assessed levels of cytokynines – biochemical’s involved in regulating the bodies immune response. Participants were also given a 10 item perceived stress scale to check how stressed they actually felt.

They found that it took significantly longer for complete wound healing in the carers (an average of 9 days longer), cytokine levels were lower in the carer group and the carers did indicate they felt more stressed on the perceived stress scale. The researchers concluded that chronic stress depresses the functioning of the immune system because wound healing took longer in the carer group and cytokine levels were lower.

These findings do appear to support a link between stress and the immune system. The findings may also have important applications in medicine; they do imply that people who have undergone surgery, for example should avoid stress if their recovery is to be more effective. This particular research study does have some methodological drawbacks; the matching of participants was rather inexact, for example more of the carers were married and were non-smokers. However both of these participant variables are related to lower stress. Therefore this sampling bias would suggest that carers, if anything should have a better immune functioning. This actually serves to strengthen the validity of the findings and the conclusions of the researchers regarding the relationship between stress and immune system functioning.

The findings of the research are also corroborated by findings of others; studies of men and women who have recently been divorced or separated indicate poorer functioning of the immune system compared with married couples of similar age and social position. For example, immune cells from separated and divorced people do not reproduce as effectively from those of married counterparts (Kiecolt-Glaser et al, 1987). However, a whole range of factors other than stress may affect the immune system.

These include general health, diet and age and whilst studies may attempt to control for such factors in order to isolate the effects of stress complete control is unlikely. Despite this, there is considerable evidence that stress, particularly chronic or long-term, does suppress the immune system. This provides important explanation for the relationship between stress and the immune system.

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In this essay I am going to outline and evaluate research on the effect of stress on the immune system, to do this I will include Glaser’s study on the effects of stress on the immune system, also Selye’s study …

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