A history of mental illness in your family can be hard to identify, especially due to the many stigmas that surround mental health disorders. People from older generations may not believe in mental health treatment, think they just have odd quirks, or neglect mental illnesses entirely when, in reality, they have serious concerns that need to be addressed.
Mental illness and family history can be a lot like alcoholism and family history. Some traits are passed down genetically and some are because of how you were raised—both nature and nurture play their parts. Things like depression and anxiety can be genetic disorders, meaning if you were raised by someone with those disorders, you may have developed those conditions as well.
Early Development: Learned Coping Mechanisms
So much of how you act is based on what you learned growing up. Your parents are the biggest informants of your coping mechanisms. If your parent has a mental illness, seeing how they react to certain situations teaches you how to react in similar circumstances. This can perpetuate the cycle of mental illness within the family unit.
For example, if your parent has bipolar disorder, you will see them react to things in a variety of different ways. Small things may trigger a depressive episode, while bigger issues were brushed off as nothing in a manic state. This can create a feeling of instability and even trauma as a child.
Because you observed these events as a curious and impressionable child, your mind likely normalized the behaviors. You went along thinking that was just how parents act. Now, as an adult, you may find that you use similar behaviors to cope with stressful situations. These bipolar tendencies were passed on to you, and may well be carried on in your own children.
The difference now is that, as an adult, you can recognize these behaviors as problematic. You may not know how to change them, which can be frustrating, but you recognize that the behavior is concerning. This is not to say that your parent is at fault. They may have learned these coping mechanisms from their parents, who learned them from their parents, and so on. For generations, there has been shame and guilt associated with mental illness. There are things that you can do to correct this.
Shame and Mental Illness
For decades, people viewed having a mental disorder as shameful because it made you “crazy” or proved that you needed to be locked up in an asylum with a straight jacket. If this is how mental illness is perceived by your predecessors, why would you ever want to talk about it? People in past generations likely pushed those thoughts and feelings down with the belief that it was an inappropriate or dangerous topic to discuss.
This led to the people of older generations growing up and pushing their own issues on newer generations. It is not that early generations did not know they had mental disorders, but rather that they chose not to face them due to labeling. Consequently, these behaviors went unchecked for ages.
This history brought about the stigmas put on you if you have a mental health disorder. It may have made you think there was something wrong with you or that you were not allowed to talk to anyone about it. Although, there are resources out there that can help you break the generational cycle of mental illness.
What You Can Do
There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness. It is more common than you might think. The first step is identifying that something is wrong. With most problems in life, identifying the issue is half the battle because once you can name it, you can treat it.
Treatment and therapy are the best solutions to these problems. Through therapy, you can learn not only to identify what mental illness you may have but also how to correct it. There are a variety of different treatment options from taking medication to more holistic approaches.
You may be the first person in your family to address these issues, and that change is important. Facilitating change with family history is not always easy. Some members of your family may still think of mental illness with the stigma attached, but you have to do what is best for you.
At the end of the day, you want to be happy with yourself and your life. By getting treatment for your disorder, you can achieve that. You have the power to make that change in your life and break the cycle of mental illness in your family, hopefully making an even better life for the generation after you.
Dealing with mental illness and family history can be a touchy subject for some people. You want to be able to make the most of your life but you may feel that mental illness is holding you back and there will be too much judgment to deal with to get help. How do you correct this? NorthStar Transitions, located in Boulder, CO, can be the place where you can get answers to all your questions. Our kind and experienced staff is more than happy to help you navigate treatment, manage stigma, and break the generational cycle of mental illness. We are experienced in dealing with mental health disorders and offer a variety of programs so you can get the treatment that best suits your needs. You can take the first steps toward healing by calling us today at (303) 558-6400.