Mental health can be an uncomfortable topic for many people. This is especially true regarding mental illness within their family. Discussions on this topic are slowly becoming more accepted. People are becoming more comfortable sharing their experience, strength, and hope about their mental health. The best way to continue this progress is to increase awareness and understanding of the causes of generational mental health illness.
What Factors Contribute to Generational Mental Illness?
Genetic predisposition to the development of a mental health disorder is well-established. Heredity seemingly plays a role in nearly every known mental health condition, some more than others. Genetics is a key factor in disease development, but this importance is sometimes overestimated. Meanwhile, other potential contributing factors to developing mental health disorders aren’t as well studied. Such factors include socioeconomic factors and intergenerational trauma.
Mental illness is often passed from one generation to the next. Socioeconomic factors are believed to play a significant role in this process. A few of these key factors include:
Many of these factors overlap and affect one another. Based on where someone was born, they may not have access to adequate educational opportunities. Their parents’ education levels can affect their occupation, which typically determines their potential income. Like location, these factors can also limit opportunities for education and self-improvement. As a result, a limited education can restrict a person’s potential occupation and income. This, in turn, limits where an individual lives and results in the same restrictions for their children’s educational opportunities.
Intergenerational trauma is another significant contributing factor to the cycle of generational mental illness. Many mental health conditions, such as PTSD, have a basis in trauma. Even if the children may not have suffered this trauma directly, they can still feel its effects on their parents. This could be directly through their inability to provide for or develop a healthy relationship with their children. Trauma could also affect children indirectly through their observation of how that trauma affects their parents.
Additional Complex Factors
These factors are much more complex than those described above. Socioeconomic factors can create more significant issues than whether an individual can afford college or a nice house. They can result in family dynamics and environmental stressors that form identity, behaviors, and a sense of self-worth. Intergenerational trauma can have similar effects. Unfortunately, many of these aspects are part of the past and cannot be changed.
It is possible for parents to break this generational cycle, improve their lives, and create a better future for their children. While certain aspects of the past can’t be changed, like where one grew up, they can change their present and future. Changing one or more socioeconomic factors can give one’s children better opportunities, having lasting effects on future generations.
Perhaps the most significant thing an individual can do is improve their mental health, including addressing trauma that they or another family member has experienced. While this won’t prevent passing a genetic predisposition to their children, it can often be enough to prevent it from manifesting. It also sets one up to be more successful in their endeavors to make those external changes in their life, like obtaining an education or finding a better career.
Breaking the Cycle
Successfully breaking the cycle of generational mental illness is difficult but possible. The following are helpful starting points:
The first and most crucial step is to be aware of this issue within the family. Nothing can be changed unless one is aware it needs to be changed. Unfortunately, individuals may not have become aware of this until it has manifested in a way that directly affects their life. This could be from symptoms, problems at work, or relationship issues.
Once one is aware of this issue, they may find that it has less power over them. Awareness is a crucial pivot point in breaking this cycle, but it will take more than simply being aware of the problem to incite lasting change.
Recognize Harmful Patterns
After one knows that a problem exists, the next step is gathering more information. The beneficial aspect of generation cycles is that they tend to follow patterns. Unfortunately, the patterns can be challenging to recognize when they span periods as long as multiple generations.
Having family members who can provide information can be helpful but may not be feasible. The stigma behind mental health conditions can cause reluctance in others to share on the subject. If the family member has a mental illness, they may not have the insight needed to see the problem. It may be helpful to enlist the help of a therapist in uncovering and understanding these patterns.
Once one has recognized the pattern of problematic factors contributing to this cycle, the next step is to find a solution. Some people might feel like it’s their responsibility to solve this on their own, but it’s not. In fact, not seeking help for the problem is often one of the most problematic behavior patterns contributing to the continuation of mental illness in a family.
Getting help from a medical provider or a therapist can help get mental illness under control. The issues worked through and the tools obtained can lead to improvements in many other aspects of one’s life. Many of the socioeconomic factors and trauma may improve as one’s mental health improves. These positive changes can create an environment that can prevent the same issues from arising for one’s children, effectively breaking the cycle.
Mental illness is known to have a significant genetic component. However, other elements contribute to passing a mental health disorder from one generation to the next. Such elements include socioeconomic factors and intergenerational trauma. These are potential key contributors to the persistence of mental illness over multiple family generations. While many of these factors are beyond your control, it is possible to break this cycle. At Southern California Sunrise Recovery Center, we understand how significant these factors can be to you and your offspring’s mental health. We aim to provide our clients with the treatment and counseling needed to break this harmful cycle. For more information, call us at (714) 942-4143 today.