Family Matters In Sickness And Health

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

Family has a profound effect on your health, wealth and happiness. You as a spouse, parent, child or sibling exercise profound effect on your family's education, success, health, prosperity and happiness.

Dr. Robert Ferrer of the University of Texas Health Sciences Center estimates that our health (or lack of it) is 75% our own doing and 25% is of the family's doing. Some experts regard "family effect" as a major force in sickness and health and under certain circumstances, influences how long we live and when, where and how we die. Family effect must be taken into account by doctors when treating major and/or chronic illnesses.

Researches at Nottingham University studied records of 8400 married couples and made this discovery: If one spouse suffered from asthma, depression, ulcers or hypertension, chances were that the other spouse also suffered from similar condition. According to the April 25, 2005 issue of Newsweek, "Health for Life" chances of such co-occurrence are estimated to be seventy percent!

What should one make out of such a high co-occurrence? Since they were married couples, we can safely assume it isn't the genes. Maybe it's the house, the food they were eating and the lifestyle they were living or is it marital sympathy. Could fellow feeling and suffering be propelled by the marital vows, "in sickness and health ?"

The loss of a loved one can sometimes be lethal for survivors. Consider couples married for 20 years or longer. When one spouse dies, statistics indicate that in 50 percent of cases, the surviving spouse will die within 18 months.

Regardless of the length of marriage, surviving spouses die at twice the normal rate during the first year of spousal loss.

When a mother loses her child, she is more likely to be hospitalized for depression in the following years. Furthermore, a mother's risk of untimely death increases fourfold in the three years following the loss of a child.

Children of depressed mothers are more likely to suffer from psychiatric and behavioral disorders as teens. Girls who lose a parent through death or separation are more likely to suffer from depressive or anxiety disorders as adults.

A child's chronic illness or disability can have a telling effect on the whole family. One of the parents becomes full time caregiver often putting significant strain on the marriage. Siblings can feel abandoned and isolate themselves from the family and peers.

In a positive vein, family crises are not all disruptive and disabling. Some families come out stronger, more than ever cohesive and emotionally committed to one another. They become highly goal oriented and purposeful and the challenges bring out the best in everyone in the family.

Help and support from medical and social agencies and the neighborhood and community can make a difference for a family in crisis. Take for example, the help from hospice for a family with a terminally ill member. It can reduce the lethal consequences of bereavement. A Harvard University's analysis of 35,000 couples shows that when bereaved spouses receive high-quality palliative care, they are less likely to be depressed or to die within 18 months.

In yet another example of the positive effect of help and support, psychologist David Olds of the University of Colorado sent family nurses all the way to Elmira, New York to frequently visit 400 teenage mothers during their first pregnancy. The nurses would visit them every few weeks, take interest in their lives and connect with them. They taught them about nutrition, basic life skills and infant care. They educated teen mothers about drugs and helped them to cut back on drugs, alcohol and nicotine. Fathers and grandparents were brought in to keep the families involved.

The efforts of nurses paid off handsomely! There was a sharp reduction in abuse, neglect and injuries which would have been high otherwise.

Researchers went back 15 years later to see how those children were doing. The results were even more surprising! As teenagers, these children had 81% fewer criminal convictions, fewer sex partners and fewer instances of running away from home than peers from similar circumstances. Last but not the least, researchers also observed less substance abuse among these teenagers.

Barring the families with special needs and facing unusual circumstances, others should diligently take care of their own. They should invest a lot of time, attention and effort in maintaining one-on-one contact, close supervision and a keen interest in their children's everyday activities and challenges. Chances are that when your children become teenagers they would be mature and responsible for their age and still be close to you just as they were as children.

Eight year-old children on average spend four hours watching TV or playing video games in their room. When those eight year olds become teenagers, a separatist culture is established. Those teens become boarders and lodgers operating from their room. In such a culture parents may not know when drugs come into the picture or when depression sets in.

Take that television out of children's room. Turn off the TVs, computers and cell phones. Go out together for a walk and talk. Leave the cell phones home.

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Copyright 2005, Mind Publications 
Posted June 2005


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