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Does mental health affect and impinge on family relationships?

A survey showed that more than 80% of patients agreed that their mental health conditions had had a detrimental effect on their family.

Mental health issues can be an extremely painful and traumatic time for all of the family and have huge impact on a family's financial and emotional components. When it comes to mental illness, the emotional and behavioural consequences for family members go largely ignored. It is clear that individuals' mental health problems have consequences for others within their social networks, most notably, their family.

Looking after a family member with a mental illness can be an extremely stressful time and coping with stress may rouse various reactions such as somatic problems (migraines, loss of appetite, fatigue, and insomnia), cognitive and emotional problems (anxiety, depression, guilt, fear, anger, confusion) and behavioural troubles (changes in attitude, and social withdrawal).

According to a Swedish study, one half of family members claimed they had developed psychological or social problems (such as sleeping problems and depression) of their own, to such an extent that they also needed help and support.

However, whilst the influence of poor mental health on families is largely misunderstood, the consequences are extremely apparent to those actually suffering from mental illness. Those surveyed by Priory reported that their emotions and behaviour put "extra stress" on their family, with one patient reporting that: "my addiction affected everyone close to me." Another mentioned that they "isolated" their family and some even reported being physically violent towards members of their own family. Nearly all mentioned that their loved ones became upset and worried about them.

Another area highlighted by the survey was the effect that mental health had on patients' children. Children are often too young to fully grasp the consequences of mental illness and find it difficult to understand why their parent isn't well or is acting unusually. Therefore, many tend to blame themselves and grow up feeling different, lonely, and isolated. Ultimately this may lead to the child developing mental health concerns as well as other psychological, behavioural, and social problems.

Family life can become unsettled and unpredictable as the needs of the ill become paramount. Studies show that a large number of family members have had to, on one or more occasions, leave their job, whilst others said they have had to give up their recreational pursuits. Social lives are usually the first to go as they may feel nervous about inviting people into their home and find it difficult to open up to people about their relative's problems.

Dr Niall Campbell (MBBS, MRCPsych), Consultant Psychiatrist at Priory Hospital Roehampton (London): "It is easy for family members to feel guilt or blame themselves for their relative's decline in mental health. For a long time, parents and other family members were the focus of blame for the occurrence of psychological problems.

"This was largely due to Freud's early psychoanalytic theory which states that problems in adulthood are due to early childhood experiences. Other psychological theories have developed since then and we now know that the family actually plays a huge role in their relative's recovery.

"It has always been clear to us how much illness and addiction can affect a patient's family. This survey was excellent in outlining the main areas and relationships that are influenced. At Priory, we always try to treat holistically so that the family are always involved and understand what is happening."

Dr Niall Campbell

Dr Niall Campbell (MBBS MRC Psych), has been a consultant adult general psychiatrist since 1996, initially completing 6 years in the NHS at Tolworth Hospital.

In 2002, Dr Campbell joined Priory Roehampton as a full time adult general psychiatrist. In 2013, he additionally became lead consultant for addictions. Dr Campbell has considerable experience treating patients with affective disorders including depression and bipolar disorder; psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia; and anxiety states including panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

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For details of how Priory can provide you with assistance regarding mental health and wellbeing, please call 0330 056 6020 or click here to submit an enquiry form. For professionals looking to make a referral, please click here

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