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Mental health affects family differently

    Not all family members are affected equally by mental health and addiction problems. Instead, family members experience different types of stress based on their position in the family.    Children of parents with mental health or addiction problems are particularly affected:    •Children may take on a parenting role to an ill mother or father, or a confidante role for a parent caring for an ill spouse/child.    •Children of alcoholic or drug-using parents exhibit increased rates of depression, anxiety disorders, and other psychiatric issues while those of depressed mothers have high rates of anxiety, disruptive, and depressive disorders that begin early, often continue into adulthood, and create impairment.    •Children of alcoholic parents frequently experience chaotic parenting and poor-quality home environments during significant developmental periods.    They may have behavioural and school difficulties, including negative self-concepts, fearfulness, loneliness, and difficulties in concentrating, attendance, and work completion.    •Children of addicted parents incur higher-than-average health care costs and, as a group, they are admitted more often to hospitals and have longer lengths of stay.    Families of people with concurrent disorders (having an addiction as well as a mental health problem) face a situation where there are even fewer services and supports than there are for people with a mental illness or substance abuse problem alone.    What is not recognized is that the co-occurrence of addiction and mental health problems is more common than not.     This adds complexity to these problems—making it more confusing for families and consumers; and more challenging for clinicians to understand and respond effectively.    These families face more crises and have very few resources to meet their own needs.  Services and supports that focus on one problem alone do not meet their needs.    Families who live with, and care for, relatives with either mental health or addiction problems may serve in a variety of roles. Family members who provide care for those with mental health problems may:    •act as informal case managers, encouraging and supporting treatment, identifying and securing housing, and arranging for income assistance;    •provide crisis intervention;    •assist with system navigation;    •advocate on behalf of their ill relative;    •monitor symptoms and support adherence to treatment plans to lessen the risk of relapse;    •provide housing, and assist with activities of daily living, including paying bills;    •maintain records of previous treatments, medications, and hospitalizations; and    •provide information on the context of a loved one’s life, to assist professionals in understanding them as a whole person.    Numerous studies have shown that family involvement in these roles results in significant benefits—for both the individual and the health care system.    Benefits include:    •decreased rates of hospitalization and relapse;    •enhanced adherence to treatment choices;    •increased rates of recovery;    •decreased involvement with the criminal justice system; and    •savings to the mental health and addiction systems.    Editor’s note: Information obtained from the “Caring Together: Families as Partners in the Mental Health and Addiction System,” which was prepared in partnership between the Family Mental Health Alliance, Canadian Mental Health Association (Ontario), Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and the Ontario Federation of Community Mental Health and Addiction Programs.

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