Family Interaction and Mental Health
Mental health problems are pervasive in America, yet poorly understood. Current estimates indicate that 48% of the U. S. population will have a diagnosable psychological disorder at some time in their lives (Regier et al., 1993). Because mental health problems are often invisible, their pervasiveness is not well appreciated, and because they are associated with a stigma, they often go untreated. Nevertheless, mental health problems can ruin relationships, careers, families, and lives. Even relatively mild psychological problems such as loneliness or social anxiety can be profoundly distressing and painfully debilitating. More severe psychological problems such as schizophrenia can permanently shatter lives sometimes rendering people virtually noncommunicative. The idea that mental health is somehow related to family interaction is nothing new. Early theorizing about mental health problems, 50–100 years ago, often postulated a connection between marital and family interactions and psychological disorders (e.g., Freud, 1917/1966; Lasegue, 1873; Sullivan, 1953). What are some of the mental health problems that are associated with problematic family interactions? How might family interactions contribute to, aggravate, or trigger relapses in mental health problems? To answer these questions, we present current research and theorizing on problems such as depression, loneliness, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and alcoholism from a family interaction perspective. These are but a mere sample of some of the many mental health problems that are linked with troubled family interaction patterns. Interested readers can consult Beach (2001), Jacob (1987), and Segrin (2001b) for further information on these topics.
Major depressive disorder is a pervasive illness with a lifetime risk of 10% to 25% for women and 5% to 12% for men (DSM-IV-TR; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000; Kessler et al., 1994). Depressive episodes are marked by severely depressed mood, diminished interest in any activities, significant weight loss or gain, sleep disturbance, psychomotor agitation or retardation, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, difficulty concentrating, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideation (American Psychiatric Association). For a formal diagnosis, these symptoms must be evident for a period of at least 2 weeks, but for many people with depression these may last months