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The chances are good that you have someone in the family who struggles with their mental health

It could be from depression, stress, anxiety or even PTSD. These are just some of the most common mental health issues that people struggle with daily. And during this struggle, family plays a vital role as they form a strong support system.

Wits University released an article on the 15th of May 2022, estimating that 30% of South Africans will have a mental disorder over the course of their lifetime. Because mental health is largely ignored for various reasons, only a few people find the help they need.

Have you ever wondered what the impact is of a family when it comes to mental health? As much as a family serves as a support system, a dysfunctional family could worsen the symptoms a patient is experiencing. Since most mental health sufferers rely heavily on family, the recovery process can be negatively impacted in the case of a dysfunctional family.

Banner_How to support a loved one with mental health

This article looks at a family’s impact on someone struggling with mental health conditions. If someone in your family is struggling with mental health, keep reading to find out how you can support them.

Family elements that could have a negative impact on a person’s mental health


Physical and mental abuse could negatively impact a person’s mental health. Depending on the severity of the abuse, life-long management could be required. Psychiatrists will also look at the number of times the abuse occurred and its seriousness. And they will take into account a person’s existing mental health symptoms to determine what treatment is needed.

Chronic stress

Over time, stress leads to the development of mental health issues such as anxiety or depression. Chronic stress within a family is a concern as it leaves the patient suffering from it with little to no options for stress relief. If your family is supportive, tell them about how you are feeling and make sure to get the help you need. If they aren’t, we recommend speaking to your doctor or a mental health care provider so that they can help you.

Dysfunctional environments

Severely dysfunctional family environments can have a severe effect on children. No matter what the circumstances are for you, a dysfunctional family will severely impact you for the rest of your life. Studies have shown that children who grow up in dysfunctional homes have a greater chance of developing depression, anxiety or even PTSD in cases where physical abuse was present

3_Warning signs of declining mental health

How to support a loved one with mental health

There are several challenges in supporting a loved one with mental health issues. How you treat someone can significantly impact their recovery and general well-being. Here are some helpful insights on how you can create a supportive family structure:

Educate yourself about their illness

Many argue that the foundation of support starts with educating yourself about the illness of a loved one. Research has shown that education helps, which is why mental health care providers involve the family in the treatment process. Studies also indicate that during this process, the family environment generally improves. Knowing how the illness impacts your loved one can prevent misconceptions about seeking help. Without education, it can be challenging for people to grasp the seriousness of illnesses and symptoms such as depression or schizophrenia.

Find helpful resources

Several publications and websites educate people on mental illnesses, such as the ZwavelStream clinic’s website or the South African Depression and Anxiety Group website. For more information on mental health, visit our blog.

Manage your expectations

Expectations can also hinder the recovery process, and it’s far more common than we realise. Families often consider a loved one to be cured if they spend several weeks in the hospital and returns home. Therefore family members must manage their expectations. Some believe that expectations should be adjusted and fine-tuned to fit the context of the situation, so it is essential to have realistic expectations and encourage your loved ones to manage their expectations.

Reach out for support

Because there is, for the most part, still a strong stigma surrounding mental health, it could hinder families from seeking help. Few realise that with the proper support, the individual can gain more strength and valuable knowledge to assist them in their healing process.

Get involved in the treatment of your loved one.

The more you are involved, the more knowledge you will gain on the illness itself. Some facilities work on specific systems, limiting your involvement. However, you can speak to your loved one’s doctor or psychiatrist to become more involved in the treatment plan.

Give them back control

In many cases, people with mental illness feel like they have lost all control due to their disorder. They feel stigmatised and looked down on, so giving them back control can go a long way in making them feel comfortable. This could be as simple as letting them make their own decisions to a certain extent and goes hand in hand with setting appropriate limits.