How a family member’s mental health concerns impacts others


A study published in July in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggests that as many as 80 percent of us will experience some type of mental health challenges at one point or another during our lifetime. When we do, there’s a strong chance that it will poorly impact our family life.

An individual who is struggles with mental illness may experience significant behavioral or emotional signs associated with their illness that, if left ignored, may trickle into how a patient engages with others socially, including family members and friends.

The way in which mental health concerns impact someone varies depending on the person. Some individuals may exhibit physical symptoms such as increased stress, insomnia, decreased appetite, or fatigue. An individual may also find it becomes harder to control their emotions of anger, guilt, depression, or anxiety over time.

If left untreated, these symptoms can lead an individual to become socially withdrawn or with significant attitude changes. Once someone develops these behaviors, they’re not easily undone without putting in significant work to reverse them.

This all often lead to an individual arriving at a therapist’s door. When they arrive there, their child’s behavior has likely declined to the point where their child’s school is on the verge of taking disciplinary action against them. Parents of teens, college students, and grown adults often come to a therapist seeking to help their child or themselves cope with past traumas, to de-stress, or find a purpose and direction for their lives. Couples and families come seeking to improve their communication and to create more solid, lasting bonds with one another.

How a Parent’s Mental Health Challenges Impacts Their Child

Scientists working on a recent study at a university in Sweden found that at least 50 percent of all relatives of those suffering with mental health concerns will have their own social or psychological lives impacted by untreated loved ones.

Two of the most common challenges these individuals will have to deal with is excessive worry or stress, both of which can easily cause someone to develop sleeping difficulties, a sense of isolation, or cause them to become depressed.

If you happen to think that adults are the only ones that may be poorly impacted by another’s behaviors, then think again. That same Swedish study showed that children easily pick up on both sudden and gradual shifts in their parents’ behavior.

Research shows that, as a parents’ condition goes on untreated, a child’s tendency to want to blame his or herself for its occurrence increases. Once this feeling takes hold of a child, it can impact the way that they see themselves. This can result in them feeling a sense of isolation or loneliness which can ultimately cause them to have a low self-esteem.

If problems that arise in childhood are left untreated, then as the famed psychologist Sigmund Freud framed it, this lays the foundation for much more serious behavioral, emotional, mental, physical problems in adulthood.

Research studies that have been conducted on families with multiple children in the homes or similarly afflicted children from different families have shed light on the fact that no two children react the same to the same set of circumstances.

There are many cases in which parents struggling with mental health concerns do well enough in hiding what they’re personally going through that it doesn’t seem to affect their parenting abilities or their child.

What most child psychologists have realized instead is that many factors determine how much of an impact that a parent’s mental health issues is going to have on their child or children. Factors that affect how much a mom or dad’s challenges are going to affect their son or daughter include the age that age that they were when their parent’s mental health declined and how long that they were struggling for. Whether a child continued to receive positive parenting during this time is also important.

Other factors that have been shown to have adverse impacts on kids include growing up poor or in a single-parent home and watching their parents fight or struggle to land or maintain employment. If a parent either communicates poorly with their child, then this can create a lasting impact on their life. Children of parents that suffer from addictions to drugs, alcohol and other vices tend to have more behavioral or mental health concerns as well.

A child exposed to the different situations described above may experience increased sadness, anxiety, guilt, anger, fear, or shame.

How One Partner’s Mental Health Concerns Affect the Other’s Health

When researchers look at how dealing with mental health challenges impacts different groups of people, they often focus on how a child’s behavior impacts their parent’s wellbeing or vice versa. They spend far less time talking about how these types of concerns impact those partners that make up a couple.

With couples, it’s not uncommon that partners will come for a counseling session struggling with being able to effectively communicate with one another. Often times, they show and receive love in two distinct ways. Different experiences we’ve gone through can shape how we express and are willing to accept love.

It’s important that couples learn to communicate effectively to explain their approaches to and preferences regarding love if they want to thrive as a couple. Often times what one partner may understand as the other’s mental health concern may become less of one by both parties simply learning to more effectively discuss their feelings using each other’s own love language.

Aside from communication difficulties, those in a romantic relationship can struggle with intimacy or trust issues. These often rise to the surface in cases in which one partner has been abused or been cheated on by their ex. In cases like this, the partner that’s previously been victimized may have barriers up. They may assume that anyone that they get into a relationship with is going to abuse or cheat on them as well.

Adults often seek out therapy because they’re anxious. Anxiety can encroach into all of our lives for a number of reasons. We may not think that we’re good enough husbands or wives, moms or dads, daughters or sons, brothers or sisters, or parents. We may not think that we’re worthy enough to take on a supervisory role at our job because we’re not adequately wired to lead.

You may think something’s wrong with you if all of your friends are married or having kids and you’re not. You may have developed feeling of resentment or jealousy toward them as a result that is impacting your relationship with them. You may have recently separated from your spouse and are headed toward divorce or may be recently widowed, not sure how to confront life on your own once again.

As far as couples are concerned, one study published in the journal Psychology Bulletin some years ago highlighted how one partner’s mental health concern can adversely impact another’s mental and physical health.

The authors of another study published in the journal Archives of Psychiatric Nursing found that those who stayed in relationships and cared for their partners suffering from mental illness tended to suffer from degrees of burnout akin to what psych nurses at in-patient facilities go through.

As the researchers interacted with these individuals some more, they found that the more time that these caregivers ended up spending on giving in to the needs of their partners, the more problems that they experienced in their own lives. The caregiving partners often developed poor appetite and sleep patterns, feelings of hopelessness and shame.

Couples involved in these types of relationships grew emotionally further apart from one another. Also, when they would interact, conversations either took a hostile tone or became very superficial as one party had begun shutting down. Many spouses reported experiencing increased sadness or frustration as a result of the unravelling of their relationships.

Research exists that shows that partners in a relationship that go to couples therapy experience improvements in terms of their own individual mental health. This can, in turn, make you better together. And, by dealing with what affects you or holds you back personally, it can go a long ways in improving your relationship with your partner, spouse, family members, coworkers, neighbors, and friends.

Getting the Help You Need

Parents who fail to take the necessary steps to address their mental health concerns can stunt their child’s development and impact their psychological well being. Teens and adults who fail to take the necessary steps to address their past traumas, to calm their anxiety, and deal with any issues that may be holding them back risk not being to reach their full potential. Letting problems linger can also cause both romantic and family relationships to suffer permanent damage.

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of treatment techniques and therapies available to mental health counselors to help you overcome what’s holding you back in life. Children, for example, respond really well to play therapy as a technique for improving problem behaviors.Teens and adults who’ve undergone trauma respond well to eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), a treatment approach that has shown great promise for peeling away layers of pain that may have accumulated over time.

Whether your child, teen, or you yourself are struggling with problem behaviors or are being held back by past trauma, depression, or anxiety, our therapists at Thrive Therapy are keen on helping residents of Ft. Myers, Naples, Cape Coral and all other areas of Lee and Collier Counties improve their lives so that they can thrive once again!

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