It Only Takes One Troubled Brain to Hurt the Whole Family
Few people talk about the incredible toll that mental health issues—which brain imaging studies show are actually “brain health” issues—take on families. Bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, depression, schizophrenia, and other conditions are all brain disorders. And it only takes one person with a troubled brain to create family dysfunction. When several brains in the same family are troubled, it can create absolute chaos. Look at how it affected this family.
How Troubled Brains Affect Entire Families
Jack and Monica had been married for 11 years. They were both physicians. Jack was an emergency room doctor, Monica an internist. They sought help because of chronic marital problems. There was recent talk of divorce, but they wanted to salvage the marriage for the sake of their children.
Jack had been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD (not uncommon among emergency physicians) by a local psychiatrist several years earlier. He was disorganized, impulsive, inattentive, distractible, and forgetful. He didn’t follow through on his promises. He was also bad in business and frequently didn’t do the paperwork necessary to get reimbursed for his services. Unfortunately, Jack didn’t have a positive response to ADD/ADHD medications, which made him moody and irritable.
Monica was angry. She blamed every problem in their marriage on Jack’s ADD/ADHD. There was chronic conflict and tension. The situation was made worse by the youngest child, Matthew. He was hyperactive, impulsive, aggressive, and defiant. They had to focus so much of their attention on Matthew that they effectively ignored their older daughter, Jamie. And with their busy schedules and constant stress, the couple could never connect in a positive way.
In therapy, Monica talked about the same point over and over, held grudges from long ago, worried, and tended to automatically argue with everything that came out of Jack’s mouth. When asked about her own family, Monica talked about her father. He was a physician with whom she shared an office. She described him as angry, rigid, and compulsive. If things didn’t go his way, he would throw things, and he talked about how managed care was ruining medicine at least 5 times every day.
When Family Brains Conflict
Hearing this, it didn’t seem like Jack’s brain was the only problem in the family. Considering Monica’s behaviors and her family history, their psychiatrist suggested that both Jack and Monica get a brain scan, as well as Monica’s dad if he would agree to it. Jack and Monica readily agreed. Monica said if she was part of the problem, she wanted to know about it.
Jack’s scan showed decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and temporal lobes. The PFC is involved in planning, impulse control, and follow-through. When the activity is low in this brain region, people have problems in these areas. The temporal lobes play a role in moods and memory, and abnormal activity here is associated with temper problems and forgetfulness. Based on his evaluation, Jack started taking a different medication, exercising intensely, eating better, and taking supplements for focus.
Monica’s scan showed marked overactivity in the anterior cingulate gyrus. This area, known as the brain’s gear shifter, is what allows us to go from thought to thought. When there is too much activity in this region, people tend to get stuck on thoughts and behaviors and they are more likely to have obsessive compulsive disorder.
No doubt she was faced with a tough marriage, but her overactive cingulate was not helping her have the needed flexibility to roll with the regular ups and downs of living in an ADD/ADHD family. To help optimize her brain, she started taking targeted supplements and exercising.
Their son Matthew’s scan showed brain patterns consistent with ADD/ADHD and oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), a behavioral problem in which children are uncooperative, argumentative, and defiant. He had decreased prefrontal cortex activity and too much activity in the anterior cingulate gyrus (a combination of mom and dad). Matthew was given a treatment plan that included supplements, medication, and lifestyle changes.
Their daughter Jamie had a balanced brain, but in order to thrive, she needed more attention from her parents, more consistent parenting, and less drama at home.
Healing Troubled Brains is the First Step to a Happier Family
Once Jack and Monica began to optimize their brain function, they were able to work on their marriage and develop superior parenting skills. The parent training really helped them work together in raising Matthew and Jamie. Up to that point they just used their parenting style differences as another way to disagree. This had left Matthew feeling confused and upset about what was right and what was wrong, and it had contributed to his defiance.
Over about six months the family began to heal. There were fewer fights, more loving interactions, and a deeper understanding of the underlying problems. Jack became more focused and his memory was better. Monica became more flexible and able to let go of hurts. Matthew settled down and was becoming happier and more cooperative. And Jamie no longer felt ignored and unimportant.
Healing One Family Member Can Heal Generations
A few years after this, Monica’s father volunteered to get a brain scan. He was very pleased that his grandson was doing better and that his daughter seemed happier in her marriage. Her father’s brain scan showed a very overactive anterior cingulate gyrus (like Monica’s). He agreed to take targeted supplements and began exercising regularly. Over time, he became more relaxed, more flexible, and stopped talking about managed care. Monica was thrilled that learning more about their brains had helped three generations of her family.
As Monica learned, brain health problems that manifest as psychiatric illnesses don’t just affect the person with the condition. They can affect the whole family and even multiple generations. Understanding this can bring healing and hope for generations of families to come.
If anyone in your family is struggling with ADD/ADHD, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or any other mental health issue, don’t ignore it. It can negatively impact the entire family dynamic. At Amen Clinics, we use brain SPECT imaging as part of a comprehensive evaluation to find underlying patterns of brain dysfunction so we can more accurately diagnose and treat conditions. We have found that scanning all members of a family offers a clearer view of how each person is contributing to the problem and how they can optimize their brain to create a happier family.
To help your family, call 888-288-9834 to talk to a specialist today or schedule a visit.