Family relationships can substantially affect mental health, behavior and even physical health. Numerous studies have shown that social relationships, particularly family relationships, can have both long- and short-term effects on one's mental health. Depending on the nature of these relationships, mental health can be enhanced or impacted negatively.
Family and Positive Mental Health Impact
When family relationships are stable and supportive, a person suffering from mental health issues or disorders may be more responsive to treatment. Companionship, emotional support and often even economic support can have a positive impact on someone coping with a mental health problem.
While some who suffer from mental health issues may require intense familial support, others may simply need help with transportation to get to treatment or the day-to-day companionship that most people require in times of need.
Family and Negative Mental Health Impact
An increasing body of research demonstrates that negative family relationships can cause stress, impact mental health, contribute to cognitive decline, and even cause physical symptoms. Research has demonstrated that non-supportive families can detract from someone's mental health and or cause a mental illness to worsen.
Most of the care that mental health sufferers often rely on is from family, so when family members deny this support, the recovery process can be negatively affected.
Help Them Cope
Michener agrees that family structure can help children feel a sense of control within the chaos of growing up.
"Life offers a lot of unexpected things in general for kids to deal with. When you offer routine, it gives back a sense of normalcy," she says. "Moving can be stressful, new schools, a death in the family, changes in income. Just because they're on a schedule doesn't mean they won't have to deal with changes, but it's nice to have something that's consistent."
Nothing could be more impactful to a child than the death of a parent, which Alyssa Pelto knows all too well. The South Lyon mother of two boys, ages 7 and 9, lost her husband to illness in March, and says routine has helped her and her sons deal with their grief.
"It's helped keep things as normal as possible even in an abnormal time," she says. She says her sons may be more sensitive to uncertainty because it brings up emotions they may not even be able to articulate. For example, her oldest recently had a meltdown when she changed a long-standing bedtime routine.
Things are so regimented, Pelto says she actually has to strive to break free. The boys still talk about the time they jumped in the car in their pajamas to chase a hot air balloon.
"I have to be careful, because I don't want them to rely so much on the routine that they can't think of things to do themselves or be spontaneous," she says.
Having set routines can also reinforce better behavior notes Psychology Today. "Chaos makes children more prone to anxiety. And when kids get more anxious, they tend to be more resistant. It makes kids less cooperative," Markham says.
Elaine and Dan Dailey of South Lyon work together to keep their daughters Emma and Elizabeth on an active schedule. Dan has mornings down to a science while Elaine handles after-school activities.
"I pick them up, and it's unpack bags, homework, dinner and swim team practice," she says. The girls get along better when their days have structure, Elaine says.
"When they have nothing scheduled, they complain that they are bored. They bicker with each other and totally act out," she says. "When they know what is coming up and what to expect, they behave beautifully and sleep well."
Family counselor Tara Michener, owner and operator of Novi-based Michener Associates, says regularly scheduled activities, dinners, chores and homework reduce arguments not only among siblings, but between children and parents as well.
"Having a set routine eliminates power struggles. If kids know they brush their teeth every morning, turn off TV and come to dinner in the evening, and go to bed at the same time every night, there's not as much conflict as if it was never the arrangement," Michener says. "It takes parents out of the enforcer role because it's just a normal way of life."
Set a Schedule
To children, life seems like an arbitrary string of events that occur without warning. According to Markham, you may know you're putting your daughter to bed, but all she sees is you've whisked her away from a favorite toy. You may have planned to hit the swim club all day, but to your young son, the pool suddenly appears out of nowhere.
Starting each morning with a discussion about what's coming, from simple tasks like getting dressed and putting on shoes to bigger activities like visiting the library, comforts children, allows them to anticipate what's next, and empowers them to be an active part of plans.
"All children love to know what's going to happen," says Markham. The technique works for Hartland mom Lisa Bergkoetter, who says her sons Nathan and Logan do better when they know the agenda.
Once they have me laying out a plot of what our day is going to look like, they can relax and do their thing," she says. "Even if you tell them that the scheduled activity is no activity at all."
Both mental and physical abuse can lead to negatively impacted mental health. When a child is abused, a mental health problem can occur and require a life-long need for management. Depending on the seriousness of abuse, the amount of time it has occurred, and the person's existing mental health, the symptoms of a mental disorder can be profound and require years of treatment.
A person who has endured abuse by a family member may need routine therapy even when their mental health symptoms appear to be under control. The extent of the impact of abuse on children and young adults is still being studied.
Chronic stress can detract from both mental and physical health. Over time, this stress can lead to the development of a mental health issue such as anxiety or depression. Chronic stress within a family is a particular concern as it often leaves the sufferer with few options for stress relief.
Ideally, this stress can be counteracted if family members are willing to seek counseling. If the chronic stress continues, however, the sufferer may require individual therapy to learn how to best cope with their family circumstances.
If your family is impacting your mental health in a negative way, you may wish to make an appointment with a therapist or counselor in order to get help for your symptoms and learn strategies for coping with family problems.
The state of your mental health is not typically a choice, but you can choose to seek help. If your family is not supportive, it's important to talk to your healthcare provider who can help you understand your options so you can get the vital help you need.