Effects of Family Structure on Mental Health of Children

The home environments a child is living in can have interrelated influences on a child’s mental health as it can have a lasting effect on the child’s mental well-being. At such a young age, problematic home environments can disrupt the child’s capacities for learning and obstruct a healthy development (Developing Child. Harvard, 2013). The following research question examined in this review of social science literature was: “How does one’s environment affect the mental health of a child? For the intentions of clarity the following term must be defined, living environments such as: substandard housing, parenting styles, neighborhood crime, and abuse causes stressful living conditions which can lead to the early effects on a child’s mental health (Centre For Environmental Health, 2017). The environmental traumas left untreated can lead to further long term mental health effects. Refugee children who comes to Canada as they have suffered from violence and poor environmental situations experience the effects of trauma and separation from their country of origin which influences their mental health. For the purpose of this social science paper the following subtopics were discussed investigating this topic: home environments, escaping human tragedies, and the long term effects of a child’s mental health in environments left untreated.

Home Environments
There are three environmental meanings referring to: the built environment, the natural environment, and the social environment. The built environment refers to the buildings and space around a child and many other created spaces such as house, roads, transportation systems. The natural environment includes the air, and natural green spaces that are present around the child. The third environmental factor is the social environment which refers to a child\’s physical surroundings and social relations they have with people in their environment (Ward and Oickle, 2017). Helen Ward, is an American Environmental Health Scientist who studies the effects of the environment of the young child. Ward believes that younger children who live in a lower income residence connects to the poor emotional and behavioural functions (Ward and Oickle, 2017). The Centre For Environmental Health also confirmed that the natural and built environments that consist of green space such as, parks, gardens, and open fields have shown improvements to positive mental health and reduced health problems. (Ward and Oickle, 2017). The access to open green spaces near residential areas and schools have been beneficial to a positive increase in self regulation and reduced the risks of ADHD. (Ward

and Oickle, 2017). Helen Ward states that the younger children in poor quality households who have more access to green space areas around their neighborhood have reduced risks for emotional problems. These emotional problems involve conduct disorders and hyperactivity. (Ward and Oickle, 2017).
According to the Centre For Environmental Health, the risk factors in social environments involve the exposures to prolonged stressors in the home environment. The stressful living conditions in the home environment, such as substandard residents, crimes in the neighborhood, and minimal access to health care are key factors that contribute to an increased risk of deteriorating mental health (Ward and Oickle, 2017). Helen Ward continues by stating the household conditions for a child’s wellbeing of living in a overcrowded household and community can be another development to negative mental health. (Ward and Oickle, 2017).
The home environments are further studied through an article by Joanne Commerford, a former Senior Research Officer apart of the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA). According to the CFCA, states that most families involve their children in different ranging activities. When these activities were observed, it provided different patterns across different social groups (Commerford, 2015 ). Families that had lower socio-economic positions, and mothers speaking a language other than English at home correlated to fewer learning experiences (Commerford, 2015 ). Children who had parents read to them frequently at the age of two to three years corresponds to their reading and numeracy performance in their third year resulting in a higher NAPLAN scores (Commerford, 2015 ). Commerford continues by stating that the study which shows a stimulating learning environment is equally beneficial to children’s learning regardless of the gender or family type (Commerford, 2015 ). Moreover, her study shows the stimulating home learning environments to improve a child’s cognitive development and school-readiness by the age of four years providing a positive direction for the child’s academic results (Commerford, 2015 ).
More recent findings on the negative ways a broken home environment can affect children connects to Commerfords study of stimulating home environments. Bhav Patel, a respected writer with a passion for various health topics around the world. Patel’s research discovered that children are significantly affected by divorce. The separation of parents can be very damaging to a child and can manifest in different, negative ways (Patel, 2016). Patel states that the negative ways kids are affected through broken homes is health problems, shyness, and the lack of academic development (Patel, 2016). The problems that are encountered through health problems is the frequent headaches that occur from the unhappiness the child is going through. Patels findings show kids who live with their mom or a female caregiver after the divorce is more likely to seek professional help from a doctor (Patel, 2016). Children who come from broken homes acquire the lack of social skills and shyness as it is the most common trait from poor home environments. This is very common for kids who are in the middle of a divorce (Patel, 2016). The divorce can lead to drastic changes in a child’s life and may lead to them isolating themselves. This is due to the feelings of guilt and shame, as the child uses this mechanism to blame themselves for the divorce (Patel, 2016). Another common negative effects divorce has on children is the disruption of academic developments. A child is experiencing anxiety, sadness, and worries that haunts their mind which leads to their comfort being disturbed and lack of concentration (Patel, 2016).
Children who live in a troubled home environment where domestic violence and abuse is present can have a lasting impact on them. Dr. Virginia Davies is a well-known medical doctor in psychiatry and her published research indicates that children will witness about three-quarters of the abuse. About half of the children in these environments have been beaten cruelly or beaten (Davies, et al, 2017). Children are affected by domestic violence as they may become anxious or start to wet their beds. They might also experience difficulties sleeping and difficulties separating from their abused parent when starting school (Davies, et al, 2017). Older children will also react much differently. Boys will express their distress by showing signs of aggressiveness and disobedient. They will seek violence as a way to fix their problems and will develop the behaviours seen within their family (Davies et al, 2017). Girls are shown to react much differently than boys. They are more likely to keep their distress inside and may become withdrawn from society. Dr. Davies continues by stating that girls who keep their distress locked away can lead to anxiety and depression. They will reflect physical symptoms of eating disorders, cutting themselves, and likely to choose an abusive partner in the future (Davies et al, 2017). It is clear that the negative home environments has a lasting impact on a child’s mental health.

Escaping Human Tragedies
Identifying the underlying risk and protective factors of an immigrant child’s mental health can be characterized by the family, environment, and living conditions (Stadelman 2019). A case study was used to outline the different risk and protective factors that can affect immigrant children. The case example revealed a 14-year old named Lily who moved to Toronto from China. Lily speaks minimal English as her primary language is Cantonese. In China, Lily participated in many activities with a large group of friends. Since moving to Canada, her academic performances have significantly dropped. She is not involved in activities and starts to avoid school. Stadelman who is a contributor to the Canadian Paediatric Society Works at the Hospital For Sick Children states that the aim to improve Lily’s protective factors and to reduce her risk factors is to access each level of: Individual, family and environmental (Stadelman 2019). She found that in order to help Lily’s individual level, connecting Lily with local ESL services, and encouraging involvements in the activities she enjoys can help reduce her individual risk factors (Stadelman 2019). In order to reduce the risk factors of family, Stadelman found that it is important for parents to choose family activities with Lily and to take a family psychiatric history (Stadelman 2019). Reducing the final risk factor in the environmental level is to have Lily pursue community organizations that promote a positive and engaging youth development.
Each year, thousands of refugees are fleeing their war-torn countries and seek refuge in the United States (APA Task Force, 2009), More than 40% of refugees entering the United States are children who have experienced tragic losses, and survived devastating events that can have a lasting impact on their long-term functioning (APA Task Force, 2009). A large range of mental health problems are associated with the exposures to armed conflicts which include symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety (APA Task Force, 2009). The specific individual factors involve; development, gender and race/ethnicity. The development is important in understanding a child’s violent environment and hinders a child’s ability to engage in appropriate tasks for their age group (APA Task Force, 2009). The gender has a great influence in the war traumas a child experiences. Girls are more likely to experience sexual traumas, while boys are more likely to be exposed to shootings during war (APA Task Force, 2009). Race and ethnicity can affect a child’s adjustments and mental health when settling in the United States. After the experiences of war trauma’s, the children may experience additional stressors, such as discrimination (APA Task Force, 2009)
Selcuk Sirin is an associate professor in the department of Applied Psychology. His research generalizes around the lives of immigrants and minority children in ways to better serve them. His findings show that most refugees have fled to nearby countries like, Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan, which are struggling to handle the scale of the humanitarian crisis (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015). Refugees high risks of mental illness are between the sufferings from the trauma before fleeing and the limited amount of resources and services in a refugee camp. With these results, Syrian refugees are at a very high risk for degrading mental illnesses and access to education (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015). Syrian children who are fleeing from war traumas and losses are at high risks of suffering from mental health issues. Through Sirin’s research, refugee children are identified to suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder as the most common issue, followed by depression and anxiety. They tend to have an increased level of behavioural and emotional problems that include aggressive behaviors and other disorders (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015).
These mental health issues can have long-term negative effects on children. Refugee children who are suffering from PTSD, depression, or any mental health issues must find ways to cope with these issues while in the refugee camps (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015). The setting of a refugee camp provides little to no support to address these mental health issues that a child is facing. These health problems only become worse when a caring adult or others are missing from their lives (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015). Education also contributes to risks of mental health issues. Refugee children who are not educated are more likely to feel hopeless and suffer from mental health issues. Girls who are not enrolled in schools are at high risks of sexual assault and early marriage. These contributing factors can lead to depression and other mental health disorders (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015). In the long run, these serious obstructions to Syrian children’s mental health may prevent the rebuilding of Syria, and could lead to decades of poverty (Sirin and Rogers-Sirin, 2015).
The impact of a disaster involves key factors and exposes the effects and vulnerabilities of a child involved in a disastrous event. Brian Stafford who is a contributing author for the American Academy of Pediatrics with a medical degree and a Master of Public Health found that the psychological well-being of children is influenced by; the exposure to the tragic event, support from families and communities during the tragedy and during their recovery, and their day-to-day life disruptions (Stafford, et al, n.d ). Although a child goes through disasters, if they are not physically impaired by the disaster, they will be able to resume normal play, education, and other developing activities around their age. Stafford shares similar viewpoints to Sirin’s findings on gender role and the biological differences between boys and girls through disasters a child faces. According to Staffords findings, boys are more likely to have disruptive externalizing behavioural symptoms and longer recovery periods compared to girls (Stafford, et al, n.d ). Boys react through aggressive behaviours , violence and resort to substance abuse while girls are at high risks of internalizing disorders such as depression and anxiety (Stafford, et al, n.d ). Stafford’s further research shows that both boys and girls are at risks to sexual violence during and following the disaster (Stafford, et al, n.d ). Through the sufficient research conducted, it is clear that disastrous environments can affect a child’s mental health and lead to negative long-term effects.

Long Term Effects of a Child’s Mental Health Left Untreated
There are many unexpected disasters that happen around the world that are not part of a normal human experience. Devastating disasters are disturbing enough to cause distress in a child’s life (SickKids, 2010). There were numerous staff members from the Sickkids staff team who worked closely with healthcare professionals on the psychological effects a disaster has on children. The first response after a disaster results in emotions of fear, shock, grief or relief that a family member survived the disaster. The child may also show signs of offering help and wanting to help after the disaster (SickKids, 2010. The second response after a disaster, the child may become clingy or needy. Some children will revert back their early developmental stages, like bedwetting. They may also face symptoms such as changes in their appetites, headaches, and poor sleep. Some children’s coping mechanism is using their playtime to re-enact details of a disaster, while also displaying “magical thinking” where they will change the results of the disaster (SickKids, 2010). The third phase is the reconstructive stage where children and their families rebuild their lives after the disaster. This stage may take several months or years (SickKids, 2010).
Moreover additional data obtained in a study by Sickkids staff team shows how boys and girls react to disasters in a different way. Girls will verbally express their distress easier while boys struggle to express their distress. They may ask more questions and recurring thoughts about the disaster, while boys will express more anger and show signs of violent behaviours and have longer recovery periods (SickKids, 2010). Grief is a common response in a child if they have suffered from the loss of a loved one or even a tremendous change in their lives. Grief is most likely to be more intense after the disaster and slowly decay over a few weeks. Grief and mourning lasts up to 12 months and is considered a normal reaction (SickKids, 2010). A long term effect of a disaster that affects a child’s mental health will result in the signs of PTSD immediately after the disaster (SickKids, 2010). The symptoms of PTSD in a child are, sense of a hopeless future, re-experiencing the traumatic events through flashbacks, and a strong startle reaction (SickKids, 2010).
There are numerous negative effects that are associated with not seeking treatment for mental health disorders. Desert Hope is a rehabilitation facility that offers levels of care for those who are suffering from mental health disorders. Desert Hope’s finding show that the most obvious symptom is known as the worsening issue. The worsening issue means that children who experience minimal symptoms of a disorder will most likely begin to experience the full symptoms of the disorder. This results in the mental health disorder being harder to treat as the disorder is left untreated (Desert Hope, 2017). Desert Hope has further found that suicide is associated with untreated mental health disorders where over 90 percent of suicide is associated with other forms of mental health issues (Desert Hope, 2017).