The Ripple Effect

How undiagnosed mental illnesses can lead to suffering in families

When someone has a mental illness, it does not just impact that person. Their relationships with members of their family, like their spouse, parent, child, or sibling, can also suffer – especially when they are not receiving the help and treatment they need.

In 2018, only 43% of people with a mental illness received any treatment, and men are more likely to go without treatment for a mental illness.

One multi-national study that looked at a sample across 19 countries found that 18 different mental illnesses had an impact, not only on whether someone with the illness stayed married, but also on whether that person ever married in the first place. Major depression, alcohol abuse, and phobias, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), were found to have the largest impact on increasing divorce rates.

Studies like this one show how serious and detrimental mental health conditions, especially those that are undiagnosed and untreated, can be on families.

You can think of a mental illness as having a ripple effect. Directly, the person with the mental illness suffers from both emotional and physical symptoms. If left untreated, someone may struggle to hold a steady job, pay rent, or keep a daily routine. 

How mental illness affects others

People close to that person, their families, may also feel these effects. A spouse may have to work a second job to make enough money to support their family. Additionally, family members may take on the responsibility of caring for that person. In fact, 8.4 million Americans provide care to an adult with a mental illness each year. At the community level, effects can also can be seen financially. In America, it is estimated that $300 billion is lost each year from loss of productivity due to untreated mental illnesses. Worldwide, Depression is the leading cause of disability. All of this shows how the impact of a mental illness can ripple out.

So, what can we do to help improve these effects, especially during Men’s Mental Health Month?

Here are some tips for seeking treatment for mental illness:

  1. Understand that having a mental illness is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw.
  2. Try to avoid the temptation to isolate yourself or withdraw from your friends and family.
  3. Open up and talk to people you trust about what you are going through.
  4. Take a free mental health screening online
  5. Call our Peer Recovery Call Center to talk to someone who can listen, give you advice, and help connect you to resources in your area: (865) 584-9125
  6. Seek help from your doctor or mental health professional.

Emily Wells is the Northeast Regional Coordinator for MHAET. She lives in Johnson City, TN with her husband, Michael, two cats, Marla and Khaleesi, and dog, Petunia. Her hobbies include being outside, gardening, and hiking with Petunia. She loves working for MHAET because it allows her to meet people throughout the community who care about helping others. She loves meeting students who share their own experiences with mental health and inspire her every day.

The Mental Health Association offers all services to eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin or disability.

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