Do you know that the mental health issues you experience may be traced back to your parents and ancestors? If you were raised by someone who had mental health illnesses, their behaviors may have impacted you. This is known as intergenerational dynamics of mental health. Emotional trauma can even be transferred from one generation to the next.
In the same way, your mental health issues can shape that of children and grandchildren who come after you. This is all because a family is a complex system of individuals with certain behavioral patterns. It is a primary space for shaping children’s emotional and mental health.
Understanding the Family System and Intergenerational Mental Health
The family system is supposed to be a haven of love, nurture, and support. Parents are the main architect of their children’s emotional and mental health. But mental health illnesses, including abusive or compulsive behaviors, often deprive it of warmth and peace.
The negative health consequences of traumatic events may be compounded through the family system. Examples such as neglect, physical or sexual abuse, and substance addiction may produce lasting impacts on family members. Children growing up with these adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are at a much higher risk of developing mental health issues later in life.
The high risk of intergenerational mental health problems lies in the fact that children’s brains are shaped by the stress at home. For example, research shows that children with maternal histories of depression or anxiety are at a higher risk of developing changed connectivity in certain areas of the brain.
Symptoms of Intergenerational Trauma
Persistent and untreated mental health problems may pass down generations and build up trauma in the family system. It can take a toll on every family member’s health. For example, emotional and domestic violence may leave feelings of shame and anger. Children who grow up in these families tend to suffer from low self-esteem.
Intergenerational trauma almost always leads to relationship conflicts. Family members have feuds with or are indifferent to each other. Individuals may develop PTSD or extreme reactions to certain triggers. Some people tend to withdraw from any human group because of damaged collective identity.
Other common symptoms of intergenerational trauma include hypervigilance, distrust toward outsiders, high anxiety, insomnia, depression, and tendencies for control, compulsion, and retaliation. Physiologically speaking, intergenerational trauma may impact each member’s immune system.
A Trauma-Informed Approach to Mental Health
Caring for people who have been affected by intergenerational mental health illness requires a trauma-informed approach. Health professionals may need to trace both individual medical history and the history of family trauma. They usually work hard on not triggering or re-traumatizing individuals. Safety and trustworthiness are most valued.
Trauma-informed intervention also prioritizes the empowerment of individuals. It uses a strength-based model which values their own choice. This makes the trauma-informed approach a highly collaborative and integrated one. Health professionals do not dictate the treatment process. Recovering individuals do.
Breaking Down Cultural Stigmas in Mental Health Care
The family system is a strong space for cultural values. Intergenerational trauma may shape cultural stigmas that prohibit members of the family from expressing their thoughts. These cultural stigmas may create barriers to mental health treatment.
With science-based methods, health professionals have tried to break down both the cycle of intergenerational trauma and cultural stigmas. Although there is no specific diagnosis method for intergenerational trauma, there are many tools helping health professionals arrive at a certain assessment.
Education, Intervention, and Treatment for Intergenerational Mental Health Care
A starting point is more education about intergenerational trauma. This is the best way to combat the widespread stigma about family-based mental health illnesses. Education can lead to more awareness among parents. Good parenting practices can protect against intergenerational transfer. It is entirely possible for mental health illnesses such as anxiety and depression to “skip a generation.”
Due to the complexity of the family system and trauma, family-based treatment of mental health illnesses require a higher level of care. Each individual member of the family needs to have one-on-one therapy sessions before they begin family therapy together. The latter works best in restoring communication channels within the family system.
The Importance of Continuing Care
Even after treatment, individuals who have experienced the effect of intergenerational mental health illnesses need long-term, continuing care. It will take a long time for the brain to heal from past complex trauma such as this kind. Like most other chronic diseases, you need continuing care for long-term maintenance.
Dr. Martin is the chief scientific officer for Alter Health Group and co-founder of Mindfuli, a mental health platform that utilizes the latest technology to enhance the collaborative relationship between clients and providers. He has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the University of Tennessee and was a professor and research director for the doctoral program in clinical psychology at Azusa Pacific University for over a decade. The therapeutic alliance is at the heart and soul of the care provided through Mindfuli. To learn more about our virtual therapy platform, call us at (866) 973-4415.
Do you know that mental health illnesses may pass down to the next generation? Do you understand how a family system works? Have you heard of intergenerational trauma? Are you looking for continuing care after mental health treatment? Mindfuli has a team of experts who adopt a trauma-informed approach when treating people suffering the impact of intergenerational mental health illnesses. We utilize the latest technology to enhance the collaborative relationship between clients and providers. With effective monitoring and tracking of your recovery indicators, you will feel supported by our recovery experts. They are just a phone call away. It is time to call us today at (866) 973-4415. Reach out to make a smooth transition.