How Family Conflict May Worsen Mental Health

Autumn, with its rich colours and comforting foods, is a favourite season for many people, highlighted by family gatherings for Thanksgiving, or religious observances like Yom Kipper or Diwali.  No matter what the cause for getting family together, after many cancelled and postponed events during pandemic shut-downs, in-person reunions are cause for celebration – but they can also occasionally unearth family conflict. 

Judging by the images we see daily on social media, all families are happy, united, and supportive.  But behind the front reel, most families have their fair share of turmoil and unresolved issues.  Older adults who experience conflict with family members may suffer from mental health issues including isolation and depression.  Polarizing concerns such as vaccination hesitancy, political opinions, and religious beliefs can increase conflict within families if boundaries are not set and observed. 

According to a recent McMaster Optimal Aging Portal blog post, some of the social determinants of health include economic status, caregiving stresses, loneliness, and family conflict.  The risk for serious severe symptoms of depression has been linked with family conflict, which may or may not include violence. Access to services to help individuals cope with family conflict has been limited during the pandemic and continues to be difficult with the dramatic rise in mental health concerns stemming from COVID-related issues. 

Help for Family Conflict

There are interventions that can help families manage conflict and mitigate some of the stressors and resulting isolation and depression that may arise from family troubles.  Studies have shown that redefining family configurations to avoid conflict with specific individuals that create stressful situations may help older adults maintain health and well-being. 

Self-care is also beneficial to help prevent depression and may take the form of regular exercise, enjoying a friend group, eating a healthy diet, or controlling stress with meditation. Seeking mental health care by seeing a therapist or a counsellor is also an important component of self-care. 

For more tips to help resolve, redefine or avoid family conflict follow this link to the Jed Foundation website.