Family and Mental Health: 5 Facts You Need to Know

The role of the family in the mental health of its members is key. The context and style of upbringing, and more, have an influence.
Family and Mental Health: 5 Facts You Need to Know
Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales

Written and verified by the psychologist Maria Fátima Seppi Vinuales.

Last update: 06 July, 2023

José Ortega y Gasset, famous Spanish thinker and philosopher, said I am me and my circumstances. With this phrase, he emphasizes that an individual is never an isolated being. Their context and the people around them also influence their development. In this regard, the role of the family in mental health is key.

Today the family – under the different forms that exist – is one of the social groups par excellence to accompany and influence the development of its members. Both in positive and negative terms.

Below, you’ll learn how your family nucleus could be influencing your mental health and how to act upon it.

5 ways in which the family influences mental health

Especially in the early years of life, people depend on their family and primary attachments. That is why this social unit is significant for the development of subjects. But what is their direct influence? Let’s see.

1. Context

The quality of the environment influences children’s development and mental health. If a child is exposed to a stimulating environment that allows them to explore the world, their brain development will tend toward greater brain connections.

This has an impact on both cognitive and emotional levels, with positive consequences on self-esteem, autonomy, attention, etc. Similarly, the context can facilitate or hinder the development of social skills, as explained in a study published by the journal Person.

It’s not the same for a child to have different possibilities when it comes to playing, such as experimenting with textures, flavors, smells, having their own space, and exercising than it is for them not have these same opportunities. For example, a child living in precarious conditions or in environments where the only activity of the day is switching from the cell phone to the television.

In this regard, it’s worth highlighting – and warning – that the socioeconomic context is a determining factor in living and upbringing conditions. There are many families in which parents can’t devote time to their children. But who can also pay for caregivers or leisure activities.

Parents practicing democratic parenting with their teens.

2. Interpersonal relationships

The quality of family ties also has a great influence on mental health. In this regard, it’s common to talk about parenting styles and their relationship with the type of attachment that develops.

For example, when a parenting style is democratic, it’s positive and secure. Therefore, the attachment that’s established allows the child to develop autonomy. In addition, the child feels safe, protected, and valued.

At the other extreme, there are authoritarian and rigid parenting styles, where children must obey and comply with rules. In general, bonds are established on the basis of fear and many times on the abuse of authority.

That’s why they’re usually fearful, submissive children, who follow rules. There’s no room to challenge themselves and no room for exploration or creativity. In adulthood, they can establish equally authoritarian bonds or establish relationships of dependence or submission.

3. Communication

The way a family communicates can be a protective or risk factor for the mental health of its members. The theories that address communication, with Watzlawick and other authors at the forefront, explain that those interactions that are clear, coherent over time, and that confirm the presence of the other, benefit their members.

When communication is disqualifying or confusing, the members don’t know how to act. This is the type of communication that manifests itself through irony and sarcasm. Where paradoxes or traps are present.

For example, a “Do what you want” actually hides an “I expect you to do what I want.” If the family member doesn’t comply, then situations of conflict or anger may arise.

4. How problems are solved

All families have problems. However, the way in which they decide to solve them is a determining factor in the well-being of their members. When problems are avoided, sooner or later, they end up “exploding.”

There are also problems that are solved with money. For example, parents who feel guilty for not spending time with their children try to make up for their lack of affection by indulging them in everything.

Finally, when faced with a mental health problem in one of its members, the family’s conception of health and help will be key when it comes to asking for assistance. If it’s a conservative family and mental health is a taboo, it’ll be more difficult to open up and the problem may become more complicated over time.

5. The presence of any illness or disability in the family

Quite rightly, when a family member is affected by any health problem, it’s logical for parents and adults to be concerned about that person. Therefore, routines, rules, and habits are structured around what that individual needs.

However, if the situation is chronic, sometimes the rest of the family is neglected. This is how cases of parentalized or hyper-responsible children can be found. These children exercise the role of parents or caregivers at an early age, assuming tasks that don’t correspond to their age or maturity level. Something like “growing up all at once.”

At the opposite extreme, we find children who begin to develop other types of symptoms because of the lack of protection in which they live or as a way of expressing all the stress they experience.

In this regard, it’s important to work on the support and involvement of the whole family to avoid overloading some and neglecting others. The role of a caregiver brings satisfaction, but it also involves stress and exhaustion. Therefore, if there’s no accompanying context and there’s a dysfunctional family, the caregiver’s health will worsen over time.

A happy family hiking together.

The importance of the role of the family in mental health: How can it have a positive influence?

Here are some recommendations that can be positive for the development of all members of the family group and that can strengthen the role of the family in mental health.

  • Share family activities. They’re an opportunity to connect with each other, enjoy a relaxing time, and create new anecdotes.
  • Be concerned about the well-being of all members. Open spaces for dialogue about emotions.
  • Educate regarding the establishment of good habits. Through routines of hygiene, study, tidiness, etc.
  • Establish clear rules, with consequences for non-compliance. Maintain healthy and coherent limits.
  • Provide spaces for self-care. The first years of a child’s life can be especially stressful for parents. There are many changes and great responsibilities are assumed. For this reason, it’s important to allow for rest and leisure time,
  • Encourage co-responsibility. Among all family members, assigning tasks to each of them according to age.

Support families

Each family group will forge its own routines and customs. However, it’s important to point out that the family has a great deal of important functions: Upbringing, care, etc. and, under current conditions, families can’t always do things on their own.

That’s why, nowadays, it’s not only necessary to expand your support network (clubs, extended family, friends) but it’s also important to have public policies that support families in their task.

Without a doubt, family therapy – even individual therapy – can be one of the ways to accompany families in the challenges of development. It can also be useful as a space in which to think of different ways to solve problems and put an end to negative behavior and relational patterns.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Peñaranda, A. P., Ortiz, L. G., Sánchez, E. R., Baltar, A. L., Santos, N. P., & Marcos, M. Á. G. (2009). Función familiar y salud mental del cuidador de familiares con dependencia. Atención primaria41(11), 621-628.
  • RuizOrdoñez, C., (2004). El papel de la familia en la transmisión sociocultural y de la salud mental. Nómadas. Critical Journal of Social and Juridical Sciences, (9),0.[fecha de Consulta 3 de Junio de 2023]. ISSN: 1578-6730. Recuperado de:
  • Valencia, L. I., & Henao López, G. C. (2012). Influencia del clima sociofamiliar y estilos de interacción parental sobre el desarrollo de habilidades sociales en niños y niñas. Persona, (15),253-271.[fecha de Consulta 3 de Junio de 2023]. ISSN: 1560-6139. Recuperado de:

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.