Mental health problems
Mental health problems can affect a person's ability to be an effective parent. For example, depression can mean people have little motivation or energy, and struggle to spend time with the kids. People can become irritable and less patient with children, or not feel confident enough to set limits.
Children who have a parent with a mental health condition are more likely to experience a range of problems. These can include behavioural problems, difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, poor coping skills, and problems with school. They're also more likely to develop mental health problems themselves, which can continue into adulthood.
Mental health problems can also have a significant effect on partners who have to take on extra responsibilities and deal with the behaviours caused by the mental health condition, such as having to cope with substance abuse, or suicide threats or attempts. This can lead to serious strain in relationships, can make closeness and intimacy more difficult, and may even isolate the whole family from valuable social support.
Partners of current or prior serving members with a mental health problem are more likely than the general population to experience mental health problems themselves, expecially anxiety disorders and severe depression.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
There are many types of mental health conditions but PTSD is particularly relevant to families of veterans or returning personnel.
Some aspects of PTSD, like the distressing memories, hyperarousal (the feeling of being wound up all the time) and the tendency to avoid things, can be especially problematic for families.
Hyperarousal can contribute to aggression and domestic violence. Avoidance can get in the way of intimacy between a veteran and their partner, and tends to reduce relationship satisfaction.
Partners can also experience anxiety, depression, social isolation and feelings of hopelessness as a result of their partner’s trauma and subsequent mental illness. Partners of those with PTSD often talk about ‘walking on eggshells’ around their partner and being afraid of their symptoms. Click here for more information about PTSD
Losing a loved one
Sadly, some families of serving members have to deal with the loss of their loved one. They may have lost their family member during training or a deployment, or their loss may come years after service from a service-related injury, physical illness or suicide.
For younger families, losing a loved one can be particularly difficult, especially if the loss happens under unexpected circumstances. As well as intense grief, families can often face unexpected problems like financial troubles or adapting to being a single-parent household.
For many families, grief may still be present years after the veteran has died. Mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety associated with the death can also persist, leaving the surviving family members struggling to support each other.
Losing a family member to suicide can cause additional problems for those left behind, like feeling angry that a parent, spouse or child has taken their own life and being confused about why it happened.
They might feel ashamed, like they need to lie about the nature of the death. Families of someone who has committed suicide might find it hard to talk to other people about their experience, and can be reluctant to access help to assist them in adjusting to life without their family member.
The impact of these issues
An unfortunate consequence of dealing with the effects mental illness and PTSD is that sometimes the service member may become violent, have drinking and/or drug use problems - and this can have a very negative effect on family life.
Violence is not just physical. It can include things people do, things people say, threats and intimidating acts. It can also mean making people do things they don’t want to do, or preventing them from doing things that are important to them.
Some questions you might ask yourself to see if your family has a problem with violence include:
Within the past year:
- Has anyone scared you, or threatened you, or someone you care about?
- Has anyone tried to control you, or make you feel bad about yourself?
- Have you been hit, pushed, or shoved, slapped, kicked, choked or otherwise physically hurt?
- Has anyone forced you to have sex, or do anything sexual, in a way you did not want to?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you and those close to you might benefit from getting some help.
If someone is making you feel unsafe or afraid phone 111 and ask for NZ Police, or if you need information about where to get help phone 0800 456 450. You can also call the 0800 NZDF4U confidential help line.
Remember that the safety of children comes first, so contact the NZ Police if you are in a situation that is risky for your children or yourself.
People can change angry, aggressive and violent behaviours with support; a good place to start is contacting your doctor or other mental health professional.
Drinking and drug use problems can affect partners, children and other family members as well as the individual themselves. As a family member, it might be helpful to think about what role you can play in supporting your loved one as they try and cut back their drinking or drug use. Remember that you might also need support during this difficult time.
We can’t ‘force’ people to change behaviours like drinking or drug use. Here are a few tips that might help you talk about the issues at hand:
Try not to argue with your loved one about their drinking or drug use – it may make them more determined not to change.
- Try to support and encourage behaviours or changes that are helpful or healthy, rather than criticising the behaviours that are unhelpful or unhealthy.
- Feel free to express your opinion, and be sure to listen when they express theirs.
- Your ability to help and support depends on how you are travelling – sometimes it’s helpful to have someone to support you as you support your family member. See the details on this page about where to find help.