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When it comes to how mental illness affects the family, the psychology journal Social Work in Public Health gives an apt analogy. It states that “It is helpful to think of the family system as a mobile: when one part in a hanging mobile moves, this affects all parts of the mobile but in different ways, and each part adjusts to maintain a balance in the system.” In other words, mental illness affects many more people than just the individual that is struggling.

Many people outside of the recovery realm overlook the tolls that mental illness can take on the entire family. It is also true that family members affected by issues of mental illness often offer so much of themselves to the individual that is struggling that they ignore or don’t recognize the struggles that they are experiencing themselves.

There is a reason why mental illness is often referred to as a “family disease.” Just like an individual disease, it can be a corrosive occurrence that affects everything and everyone it comes into contact with. Fortunately, there are now many recovery options in place that can help when there’s mental illness in the family.

What Does “Family Disease” Mean?

The term “family disease” is often employed to highlight the fact that the effects of individual mental illness can spread to everyone that gets caught up in their personal orbit. Logically, this orbit includes family members.

Also, this “disease” classification is not merely hyperbole. Family members can experience very real and diagnosable physical and psychological effects when there is mental illness in the family.

This is why it can be so crucial that the entire family receives help alongside their struggling family member. In some extreme instances, it may even include severing ties with a family member. Regardless of the recovery path taken, the important aspect is that it is taken and that it is taken from an individualized starting point.

The Potential Effects of Mental Illness on the Family

There is a lot of statistical support for the correlation between mental health and its effects on the family. Let us take the familial relationship between parents and their children. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “A recent study asked parents (or caregivers who had the role of a parent) to report on their child’s mental and physical health as well as their own mental health. One in 14 children aged 0 – 17 years had a parent who reported poor mental health, and (as a result) those children were more likely to have poor general health, to have a mental, emotional, or developmental disability, to have adverse childhood experiences such as exposure to violence or family disruptions including divorce, and to be living in poverty.” As you can see, the issues of mental health can branch out far into the family tree.

Mental illness can often take a toll on the family in very similar ways that it does on the individual that is struggling. Some examples of this are:

  • Feelings of depression and anxiety related to the well-being of the struggling family member
  • Increased potential to engage in toxic behaviors, specifically alcohol, and/or substance misuse
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns due to elevated stress levels
  • Feelings of guilt and doubt related to the feelings of inability to help a struggling loved one
  • Negative emotions related to financial and legal instability due to a family member’s mental health needs

Treating Mental Illness in the Family

Just as with individual mental health treatment, the good news is that there are many options by which the family can get the mental health care that they require. These options may include individual therapy for each family member or therapy that includes the entire family. 

It may also include support groups or family counseling. Individual therapies can range from cognitive-behavioral to holistic-meditative to psychotherapeutic. However, some of the best options for family recovery include a variety of recovery options. Again, another reason why individual planning is so crucial. 

For example, evidence-based therapies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication-based therapies may be administered in tandem with therapies that aim to create a greater sense of peace and serenity in the family. This would fall in the realm of the holistic. However, holistic practices are widely regarded as helpful in mental health recovery. The Phoenix Recovery Center believes that they should not replace or be used in place of more clinically proven treatments.

It is essential to always remember the analogy of the family being affected as though individual pieces of a mobile. Our goal is to stop those pieces from swinging around so violently, so the family can experience some calm again. A malfunctioning mobile will eventually fall apart, and the family is too precious for that to happen.

Due to the family nature of the illness, it only makes sense that everyone deserves to get the help they need to recover. This may include family therapy, group counseling, or other community outreach programs. Everyone deserves to recover, whether they have a specific diagnosis or not. For more information on how to get started, Call The Phoenix Recovery Center at (801) 438-3185.

The Phoenix Recovery Center
489 W. South Jordan Pkwy
Suite 400
South Jordan, UT