Family is one of the most important institutions in society. The inner coherence depends on its families' mental health because individuals who play key roles in forming the collective are a product of this institution. There are several indicators to understand good mental health, and one of the most important of them is communication.
Suppose members of a family can communicate with one another, express their feelings or opinions on the family's fundamental issues, consult with everyone, and listen to each other. In that case, that is a sign of a healthy family. Here, a family member will not feel any risk of sharing their inner feelings with other family members. In many cases, we feel risky in such situations and act unacceptably. But in a family with good mental health, there will be less problem in communication. They will be good at finding new ways to deal with difficult things and the everyday issues collectively. Here, everyone will trust one another.
We face different crises in different periods of our lives, and members of healthy families always give moral and emotional support and try to ensure their vulnerable members' safety. He or she will then be assured that a family is a secure place where they can always have support or to whom the child can turn back when upset or anxious.
But the fact is, in the majority of families we see that there is a gap in communication where there are no healthy boundaries among its members. In academic terms, we call parents and children two different systems, and together, they are part of a bigger system. When these two systems have a healthy boundary and healthy communication, then the system can function properly. Here, some of the most critical factors are communication, emotional regulation, sense of safety and security. The stimulating environment of the total system is also essential because it enables members to achieve their goals. All these factors can help achieve positive mental health for a family.
In many cases, we see love, affection, and trust among the family members, but they do not know how to express these feelings to each other. There can also be negative emotions – like anger or frustration – and there must be some ways to release these feelings too. These inabilities sometimes create problems.
There are also some factors that we call vertical and horizontal stress. There are some values, ideas, chains of reference, religion, or culture in every house, etc. which the members of the family inherit from their ancestors or their surroundings. These are the vertical elements.
The horizontal elements are like when a family member comes to the age of puberty or arrives at adolescence; they face some challenges as it is their developmental phase. However, the parents have some beliefs about what their children should do or not do during this period.
For example, there is an unbalanced perception of "adolescents' tasks" of young people in Bangladesh, such as teenage relationships or biological changes. In Western countries, they are seen as a typical issue or a developmental change because some changes happen inside teenagers' bodies and minds. Here, some hormonal factors are involved. But many parents in our country do not have a proper understanding of and, as a result, a conflict starts between the parents and the children. Moreover, they don't know how to help their children with those emotions. Hence adolescents do risky behaviours due to lack of proper knowledge and guidance.
There are some other issues in these horizontal stresses. One of the most critical issues nowadays is the use of technology, one of the major conflicts between parents and children. In these cases, we see that they have a completely different culture and understanding of technology use.
In our time, couples also face different psychological issues in families. Some of the problems are concentrated on financial issues, and some are deep-rooted in their relations with their parents or family of origin. In many cases, we see that husbands and wives go against one another, express their anger, and sometimes become violent. There are also sexual issues which create problems between husband and wife. Nowadays, depression and anxiety are prevalent among almost all age groups.
In the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the mental health of families has been crucial. At the beginning of the pandemic, all the family members were at home almost 24 hours a day during the lockdown. The children are still out of school and spending their idle time at home. This has been affecting the discipline of children. Parents face problems in dealing with them maintaining their everyday life, from what clothes they will wear to how long their screen time will be.
Problems in dealing with children amid the pandemic are also causing issues among husbands and wives. In many families, both father and mother are job holders, and almost all the offices are now open, so what role they would play in taking care of their children has become hard to decide. This has been creating additional stress on their already stressful lives.
However, families with elderly members are also facing additional stress amid the pandemic time because these senior citizens need extra care for their protection from the virus. As a result, we are getting more reports of family violence now than in regular times.
Families are facing financial crises because of the pandemic's toll on the global economy. Many people have become unemployed; many have lost the opportunity of extra income. As a result, they have to maintain a lower lifestyle than before. These factors are also impacting children.
In our country, most people do not understand the importance of families' mental health as the concept is relatively new here – like the concept of family therapy. People should be aware of the issue because they start to learn to view the external world from their attachment to the family.
Whether a child will trust his or her friends or teachers or their partners when they will grow into adults is deeply rooted in the family's mental health. Those who have a secure attachment to the family can function better in society in their later life and become successful in their professional lives. But those who have a difficult family life face problem in every level of their later life.
So, in future, if we want to have a mentally healthy family life, parents should be aware from the beginning about the attachment of their children. Here, parenting is most important because it is through parents that the new generation learns to engage with society in the future. Parents are the authorities that teach the moral and emotional values to their children before they jump to the next stage in their adult life. The basic structure of children's psychology is shaped here.
We falsely assume that there is no conflict in a healthy family, which is not true because theories suggest it is okay to have some conflict in a family. Nevertheless, the most important thing is how family members regulate the conflict. If the conflict is measured violently and the family members escalate the situation, it will negatively impact the children. So, parents or senior members of society have to learn how to resolve conflict positively and healthy.
The first step to resolve a problem in a family is to acknowledge the problem, and from that point, members of the family can start communicating with each other openly. Sometimes, we deny the problem – this is not a healthy practice and stops communication with others. Instead, we have to express our feelings about a problem without hurting others' emotions, creating the environment of discussion.
In the case of conjugal problems, the partners should openly discuss their concerns to identify the points of disagreement in living together. The partners should be clear about what goals they want to achieve and the problems in achieving those goals. One of the first things that we should do is take care of ourselves because if we do not know how to manage our stresses, we will not help our partners. So, we need proper self-care to release our stress in a proper way and maintain a healthy family life.
Umme Kawsar Lata is assistant professor at the Department of Educational and Counselling Psychology of Dhaka University