What it Means to be a Mental Health Cycle Breaker

Mental health issues may seem to run in your family, but you are capable of breaking the cycle.

Samantha Lynn
3 min readMar 30, 2021
Woman with anxiety clutching her chest
Photo by Joice Kelly on Unsplash

Every family has their dysfunctions, some dysfunctions are just more on display than others. Serious issues like abuse and addiction are hard to ignore, but mental health issues can be a silent dysfunction, especially if your family doesn’t typically engage in open and honest discussions about difficult emotions. You may not realize it, but there is no doubt that your parents, and their parents before them, have influenced the decisions you’ve made in your life. It’s like a secret trickle down effect. Some mental health issues don’t technically “run in the family,” they’re simply the effect of actions and reactions that are witnessed by younger generations. Then, these actions are repeated because that’s what is viewed as “normal.”

Yes, we are all doomed to become our parents in some way, but there are some characteristics that we have the power to cut out or change.

A cycle breaker is someone who recognizes these family patterns and does something to change them. They break the cycle so the dysfunction isn’t passed to future generations. When you think about it, being a cycle breaker is pretty damn heroic. So, how do you break the cycle? Sometimes, simply being aware that a pattern exists is enough to stop it in its tracks. Education and awareness are the first steps to breaking a cycle.

With a mental health issue like anxiety or depression, things can get a little trickier. Evidence of family mental health patterns lie beneath the surface, and it may require some emotional digging. You also have to get real with yourself, and be open to analyzing your own thoughts and patterns. You can develop habits and patterns from your parents that you may not even be aware of until you’re an adult.

As a side note, it’s important to remember that just because your parents have these issues, it doesn’t mean they’re bad parents. And if you are a parent with anxiety, you are also not a bad parent. We are all products of our circumstances and the generations that come before us. We’re all just doing the best we can.

The stigma of mental health is deeply ingrained in the older generations. Mental health was something that was never talked about or addressed. To them, mental health disorders were something that should remain hidden.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 20.6% of adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness in 2019

Today, we are beginning to normalize the idea of self-care and seeking out therapy, so you should no longer feel the need to hide or conceal your anxiety/depression. Speaking up and seeking help is the next step to breaking the cycle. Talk to the people closest to you about how you’re feeling, and find a qualified professional that can help you.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) 20.6% of adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness in 2019, which is about 1 in 5 people. (Obviously, after a global pandemic this number is expected to be much higher in 2020 and 2021.) In short, if you recognize that you suffer from a mental illness, you are not alone. Seeking a doctor to manage your mental health should be no different than seeing a doctor to manage your asthma.

If you are a parent, the next step to breaking the cycle for your children is to be open with them, and allow them to be open with you. Talk to them often about their big emotions and give them the space to express themselves. Talking about our emotions shouldn’t be uncomfortable, especially with the people we love. Telling your parent that you’re feeling sad or anxious should be just as easy as telling them you have a stomach ache.

Being a mental health cycle breaker isn’t easy; it takes courage, and you have to put in the work every single day, but future generations will thank you for it. Just remember, for anyone who is facing a mental health issue, you are not alone.