Recognizing and Addressing Mental Health Issues in Family Members

Mental health issues have far-reaching impacts on families, creating stress, uncertainty, and strain in family relationships. It can be extremely damaging to the whole family’s physical, emotional, and even financial well-being, affecting how they live their lives.

Families with mental illness are known to face significant challenges, including poverty, unemployment, and social exclusion. Thus, there is a need to shift the focus on addressing mental health issues in family members from mere individuals to the experience of other family members who are affected by it. 

Unfortunately, recognizing and addressing family mental health issues is not an easy task due to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Consequently, a family’s struggles with mental health problems might go unnoticed, compromising the well-being of a family as a whole. 

This article will break the silence of the family’s struggles with mental health problems. It will provide you with fruitful information on how to identify family mental health issues and learn practical ways to approach these challenges within the family setting. Start reading to recognize the signs and find the necessary steps to address these issues properly. 

Recognizing signs of mental health issues

The World Health Organization stated that 1 in 8 people worldwide live with a mental health disorder. According to the WHO, a mental health disorder is mainly characterized by disturbance in an individual’s cognition, emotional regulation, and behavior. It means that the person with a mental health issue experiences impairment in their essential areas of functioning. 

In general, mental health issues are associated with psychosocial disabilities, significant distress, impairment in functioning, and a high risk of self-harm. Equipping yourself with the knowledge about the signs of mental health issues identifies potential mental health problems in your family and prevents more severe complications. 

The next sections will discuss some common signs of mental health problems you can identify in your loved ones.

Behavioral and emotional signs 

Behavioral and emotional problems that indicate a mental health issue can manifest in various ways, depending on the disorder, circumstances, and other factors. In terms of behavioral and emotional aspects, signs and symptoms of a mental health disorder can include the following.

Changes in eating or sleeping patterns 

Individuals with mental health problems may find it hard to fall asleep, stay asleep, as well as get out of bed. They may often feel tired or sleepy because of experiencing ongoing problems that disturb their sleep, such as panic attacks, flashbacks, and nightmares. 

When it comes to eating, a mental health problem can affect eating patterns in numerous ways. It can lead to emotional eating, meaning that individuals turn to food for comfort or as a coping mechanism when dealing with anxiety and depression. This eating pattern can lead to overconsumption of high-calorie and high-fat foods. 

In contrast, mental health issues can also greatly decrease appetite, significantly reducing food intake. 

Unexplained mood swings

It is normal for people to experience mood changes. However, intense and persistent emotional ups and downs may reflect mental illness.

When you feel that the mood shifts disrupt your life and even the lives of the people around you, it can be a sign of mental health conditions occurring. Some mental health issues, such as clinical depression and bipolar disorder, are considered mood or affective disorders. 

Withdrawal from social activities

In temporary cases, people may withdraw from social activities because they need to spend time alone. However, prolonged social withdrawal can be linked to mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression. 

Physical symptoms 

Other than behavioral and emotional signs, there are also physical signs that often accompany mental health issues. Here are a few signs: 


Fatigue is a persistent feeling of exhaustion or lack of energy, inextricably linked to psychological disorders

Depression is a common cause of fatigue. This condition is often followed by sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating, and persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder and ADHD, can also contribute to fatigue and general tiredness. 


This is a common indicator of a mental health problem, including anxiety disorder, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. 

Individuals with severe headaches due to depression and anxiety disorders had significantly poorer health quality and lowered quality of life than those without either disorder. 

Changes in physical activity levels

Mental health problems may lead to a persistent feeling of exhaustion and lack of energy, which often leads to decreased physical activity levels. People experiencing mental health issues often withdraw from activities they enjoy or find it difficult to exercise and do daily activities. 

Principles of addressing potential mental health issues in family members

Living with a family member with a mental illness can be tough. When you recognize some signs of mental health issues in your loved ones, you may feel extremely worried, wondering what causes the problems and what to do to provide them with the necessary support. 

Despite the importance of providing help and support, there are principles you must keep in mind when addressing potential mental health issues in your family members: 


Supporting a family member with mental health issues requires sensitivity, understanding, and a proactive approach. By adopting these strategies, you can create a supportive environment that supports their well-being and encourages them to seek the help they need. 

  • Listen without judgment. Be available and try to actively listen to your family members with an open mind. It is important not to give unsolicited advice about their mental condition so that the family members know that they always have your unconditional support. 
  • Ask questions. It’s okay if you do not totally understand what your loved one is going through. Rather than giving advice, it’s better to ask them how they feel, the symptoms they experience, and how you can help. Do not push them to give you answers; try to provide them with an opening to explain things if they want to. 
  • Encourage them to seek help. If the person who struggles with mental health issues is not being treated, let them know that various forms of help are available. Offer to help them get any treatment they need and provide some information you know about mental health treatment. 
  • Offer to help with daily tasks. Help can manifest in countless ways, even small ones. You can help individuals with mental health issues by making their lives a little easier. For instance, you can offer help to prepare meals, pick up groceries, and clean the house, just to name a few. 

Read more: Communication in Relationships and Their Impact on Mental Health 


On the other hand, there are also responses that you shouldn’t give. These responses are often unhealthy and can worsen the situation further. Avoid the following:

  • Assuming you know what they go through.  While you want to sound sympathetic and assure the person that they are not alone, do not ever compare your feelings and experiences to what they are going through. Doing so might generate an impression that the person’s experience of going through mental health issues is not valid. 
  • Telling them what to do without being asked. In some cases, telling someone what they should do without necessarily being in their shoes is not wise. When a family member with mental health issues explains to you their struggles and conditions, it is better to just listen to them attentively and let them know that you will be glad to offer help or advice if needed. 

Practical steps to help a family member with mental health issues

As a family, you want to offer the best kind of support you can to assist your loved one going through mental health issues. By incorporating the key principles mentioned before, you can help a family member with a mental health problem in a more appropriate way.

Strategizing your intervention

When you suspect your family member of having a mental health problem, you may feel that you really want to do anything to make their condition better. However, going through a mental health issue is quite a sensitive experience. It is important to approach the condition properly. 

One of the hardest things to do is initiate a conversation about a mental health condition. You do not have to be an expert who knows everything about what your loved one is going through. Do not be afraid to talk about it; start by expressing your concerns and your readiness to listen to the person. 

Use “I statements” when expressing your concerns. Using “I statements” in communication shows care and patience, rather than using the word “you,” such as “you need to…” or “you should…”

For example:

  • “I am worried about you..” 
  • “I am afraid of…”
  • “I feel like you …”

Navigating healthcare services

The healthcare process can be challenging, especially for mental health-related concerns. But, with patience, care, and willingness to gather appropriate information, you can find the right support for your loved ones. 

When navigating healthcare services, you need to identify the needs of the family member who goes through a mental health issue.

For example, do they need therapy, medication management, or both? If possible, ask the person about certain preferences they have regarding healthcare services, such as the location, gender of the therapist, and types of therapy provided. 

You may ask for recommendations from doctors, friends, and other family members who have had a positive experience with mental health professionals. Do not forget to ensure that the therapist or psychiatrist is licensed to treat the mental health issues that your family member is facing. 

Seeking out community resources

Other than support from mental health professionals, a person with mental health problems may also need comfort and companionship from other persons who were or are going through the same issue. 

A support group can fill a gap in medical treatment by providing a safe space for people with mental health issues to share feelings, experiences, and coping strategies. Participating in a support group can also provide your loved one with an opportunity to connect with people who are likely to have a common purpose and better understand each other. 

Read more: The Vital Role of Family Routines in Nurturing Healthy Family Relationships.

In conclusion 

Mental health problems significantly impact families. There is a critical need to shift the focus from merely addressing the individual struggling with a mental health problem to also seeing the experience of other family members affected by it. 

Therefore, equipping family members with the knowledge and skills to address mental health issues is critical.

By recognizing the signs of mental health problems, you can find effective strategies to approach and manage these challenges in a family setting. This improves the well-being of the whole family, more so for those who struggle with mental issues. Start breaking the silence of living with a mental illness in the family and ensure that every family member receives the support and understanding they deserve.

If you would like to see more resources on health management, check out the Family Science Labs. The lab uses the research of the Institute for Life Management Science to produce courses, certifications, podcasts, videos, and other tools. Visit the Family Science Labs today.

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