How Does Mental Health Illnesses Affect Family Relationships?

Last Update on March 9, 2023 : Published on March 9, 2023
How Does Mental Illness Affect Family Relationship

Any tension in the life of a family member upends the whole family life and relationships. And I get that. If I feel anxious, there’s a high chance that my anxiety will make my entire family feel anxious and stressed. Some of that stress would be on me, but it’s bound to happen. After all, “misery loves company.

Did you know that according to WHO, one in every five adults struggles with some mental health disorder? It’s the statistics speaking! So, in almost every family, there is one member who struggles with a severe mental health illness.

One of the most common mental illnesses diagnosed is psychiatric issues. Despite being the most common mental health issues, only 10-20% of those adults receive full-time care from professionals. The rest of the adults receive primary care from their family members.

Given the numbers, it’s crucial to understand how mental health affects family relationships and life. When you devote your time to care for a family member with a mental illness, it can be a support and help in itself for the one suffering.

When we talk about “support systems”, family is where it all begins. How the family members care for each other can determine how the mental illness one struggles with will heal and help in recovery.

Warning Signs Of Mental Health Illnesses

As a concerned family member or friend, here are some warning signs you need to know;

  • Sudden mood changes
  • Suddenly engaging in risky behavior
  • Loss of motivation
  • Unusual or negative thinking patterns
  • Sudden withdrawal from usual activities

Mental health disorders can create a sense of confusion, chaos, and even doubts in family relationships. Not only that, but mental illnesses in the family can cause feelings of helplessness, fear, abandonment, and insecurity too.

Let’s take a closer look at how mental health affects family relationships and eventually, the quality of family life.

Mental Health Effects on Family Relationships

Any kind of mental and emotional confusion or chaos in one of the family members can start a chain of chaos and disarray in the family. Mental disorders affect not just the one diagnosed but their loved ones too. I mean, why wouldn’t your loved ones feel concerned and worried when you’re struggling?

It creates something like a “ripple effect” in family life and relationships, causing tension, doubt, stress, and even helplessness. It even changes how routines are established and how everyone behaves.

Of course, everything affects different family members, well, differently. If you’re a parent with a child who’s diagnosed with a mental illness, it’ll affect you differently. If you’re a child whose parent(s) is diagnosed with a mental disorder, then it’ll affect you differently.

No matter the circumstances, the emotions felt on a broader scale might be common such as;

  • Guilt
  • Fear
  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Restlessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Hesitation

Knowing that these emotions are common and that they’re normal might be a big step in working through them.

In a study, it was found that family members of people diagnosed with severe depression might experience emotions such as guilt, psychological stress, burnout, and anxiety. There are even speculations that say that when a child grows up with a parent(s) with depression, it puts them at a higher risk of developing anxiety or depressive disorders in their adulthood.

Talking about the effects of mental health illnesses on couples, it can be said that the effects are mostly related to intimacy, bonding, and communication in the relationship. If your partner or spouse is diagnosed with a mental illness, then there’s a chance that they’ll socially withdraw and isolate themselves. This could cause the other partner/spouse to walk on eggshells and live with stress.

And it’s not the psychological impact that families struggle with. Financial struggle is also real when it comes to the effects of mental health on family relationships. Treatment for mental illnesses and expenses on medication or alternative therapies can also take a heavy toll on family relationships.

Finding out that a family member is struggling with a mental health illness can be scary and unsettling. However, you can prevent their mental health issues from affecting your family life. If you have a family member with a mental health disorder, then here are some ways you can be there for them and even take care of other members of your family.

How to be There For A Family Member?

1. Learn About Their Mental Illness

The first thing you need to do to support your family member is to learn all there is to learn about their illness. When you know the full spectrum of your loved one’s mental illness, it becomes easier to help them. Try to educate yourself and other members of your family about the illness, symptoms, causes, etc., to understand how to better care for them.

2. Don’t Blame Yourself

Next, you and your family need to understand that it’s not your fault that your loved one is diagnosed with a mental illness. You are not the cause of their illness, so avoid blaming yourself (or others) for it. It’s not their fault, either. Mental health illnesses can manifest due to environmental, situational, or biological factors. A proper diagnosis might help you find the true cause.

3. Show Empathy And Compassion

Empathy and compassion are the essential ingredients when it comes to creating a recipe for care and support. You might not truly understand the extent of their pain, but you can let them know that you’re there for them.

Showing compassion and empathy can mean the most to a loved one from a family member. Learn to be patient and avoid losing your cool when your family member lashes out.

4. Take Care Of Yourself

Amidst caring for your loved one, don’t forget to care for yourself. Your mental well-being is also important along with theirs. Taking care of a loved one can also take a toll on their caregivers, causing burnout and anxiety. So when it all becomes too much for you (or other family members), it’s advised that you take some time to care for yourself.

You need to understand that you are not the only one responsible for caregiving. Some things, only a professional can take care of. So when it comes to it, care for yourself. You can even talk to a professional for yourself. A counselor can guide you better on how you can take care of yourself while caring for a member of your family with a mental illness.

Talk to Professional Now


Understanding how mental health affects family relationships can be the first step in improving your and your family’s well-being. If a family member is diagnosed with a mental health illness, discuss your worries with them or their therapist, and keep the communication free, open, and non-judgmental.

Acknowledge their illness and encourage them to get the right help. If you feel that they are at risk of harming themselves or others, you can connect with your local mental health provider or reach out to emergency services. You can also reach out to the 988 Lifeline here.

Remember, anyone dealing with a mental health disorder or illness is fighting a battle. Sometimes, a word of support or even a compassionate hug can work in showing that they are not alone. With the proper education, support, and encouragement, we can fight against mental health stigmas and show our loved ones our support.

Caring for a family member with a mental health illness can become overwhelming and confusing. It’s OK to ask for help and seek support from a professional counselor or a support group.

Your loved one isn’t alone in their fight and neither are you!

I hope this blog helped you understand the effects of mental health illnesses on relationships. For more, you can write to us at or DM us on social media. You can also share your thoughts and tips in the comments section below.

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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