A family consists of two or more individuals related by birth, adoption, or marriage who live in the same household. Many Australians prefer smaller families with one to two children. They place a lot of significance on relations because families provide emotional, social, and financial support. Nevertheless, mental illness poses a grave threat to the family setup. Research indicates that one in every five Australians experiences a mental disorder every year (Australian Bureau of Statistics [ABS], 2018). It is also estimated that almost 45% of Australians may suffer from mental illness at a point in their lifetime. Domestic violence, unemployment, and substance abuse are key challenges that can affect Australian families’ mental health and wellbeing.
Family Dynamics in Regard to Structure, Employment, and Ethnic Diversity
The Australian family structure has experienced significant changes over the years. Even though the nuclear family forms the basis of most families, the families of couples without children have significantly increased, representing about 36.76% of all families in Australia. In addition, blended families are also on the rise due to divorce, death of a partner, or separation, accounting for around 3.7% of Australian families (Churchill, 2018). Similarly, more same-sex couples have formed their own families due to the diminishing stigma of same-sex relationships. Single-parent families have also increased and represent about 15% of Australian families.
The employment and unemployment characteristics vary across all families. Research indicates that in 2021, the percentage of couple families with dependants where one or both spouses are employed was 93.7%. Additionally, 24.4% of couple families who have children between the ages of 0 to 4 years have both partners working full time (ABS, 2021). Similarly, 24.5 % of two-spouse families with children below 15 years have one partner employed. In one-parent families who have dependants, about 61.3% of single mothers have jobs compared to 75.8% of single fathers. Nevertheless, the statistics also reveal that approximately 1.4 million families in Australia are jobless (ABS, 2021). In addition, 9.3% of families who have children aged below 15 are unemployed.
Australia is often depicted as one of the most ethnically diverse nations globally. Approximately 26% of Australians are born in foreign countries, while 49% have at least one foreign-born parent (ABS, 2017). Even though most families comprise parents born in the country, there is a growing rise in inter-ethnic families where Australians have intermarried with people from different ethnicities. The inter-ethnic families also result in mixed marriages between migrants living in the country. A study shows that in 2018, nearly 32% of registered marriages in Australia involved partners born in different countries (Fang & Zhou, 2020). Therefore, the families in Australia enjoy a wide ethnic diversity.
Sociological Theory That Explains Why the Social Issue Exists
Mental health issues in Australia can be explained through the conflict theory. According to this concept, the history of humanity is characterised by class struggle (Andersen, 2019). Society is composed of unequal distribution of wealth and power that benefit a minority at the expense of the majority. The elite group owns the means of production and are politically, socially, and economically advantaged compared to the working class (Andersen, 2019). This can provide insights into differences in people’s financial and economic circumstances in Australia. The class-based inequalities between the proletariat and bourgeoisie have been used by sociologists to explain the increased incidence rate of mental illness among populations with low socioeconomic status (SES) compared to those with higher SES. In this case, more chronic substance abusers are found in low-income families and politically marginalised neighbourhoods (Amaro et al., 2021). Unequal distribution leads to inequality and deviant behaviours, such as drug peddling and the use of illicit drugs among disadvantaged populations.
Employment associated with lower pay and high levels of unemployment among individuals with low SES causes stress. This may eventually lead to long-term physiological health impacts and contribute to mental issues, including anxiety, low self-esteem, and depression (Batic-Mujanovic et al., 2017). This is because the middle class controlling essential resources has created structures and means to maintain their social status. As a result, the working class does not have the same opportunities and is left to struggle to develop new ways to acquire wealth, which creates a constant conflict.
This sociological perspective can also explain the differential vulnerability between persons at the subordinate level relative to individuals occupying superior positions within households. In this case, women are more likely to experience domestic violence than men (Brunner, 2017). This may explain why one in six women in Australia compared to 1 in 16 men experienced physical violence in 2016 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare [AIHW], 2021). Women who encounter gender violence are at a significantly higher risk of developing depression, substance abuse, and thoughts of suicide than their counterparts (Bilsen, 2018). Being in a dominant position, the latter may also vent their frustration toward the former.
Key Challenges Affecting the Australian Families
Domestic violence is among the most prevalent issues in the country. It involves the physical, sexual, or emotional torture of a spouse or children within a family setup. According to reports, around 2.2 million individuals have experienced sexual and physical abuse from their partners. In contrast, 3.6 million people have suffered emotional abuse from a partner (AIHW, 2021). In many cases, children are the most victims of domestic abuse. Research indicates that around 6.9% of children under 15 have been physically assaulted by a family member. At the same time, 30% of the same population has been sexually abused by a family member (AIHW, 2021). A report shows that from 2019 to 2020, 20 individuals aged 15 and above were hospitalised daily for injuries due to abuse by a family member or a partner. Similarly, over 116,000 people who received homelessness-related services from 2020 to 2021 had suffered domestic violence (AIHW, 2021). This proves that domestic violence is a major social concern among Australian families.
Unemployment affects many Australian families resulting in financial constraints and poverty. The lack of employment may be caused by technological changes, disabilities, increased job competition, and inadequate skills (Poole, 2019). Approximately 1.4 million families are jobless, implying that they cannot meet their basic needs independently. Of this population of unemployed families, about 283,000 have children. Additionally, nearly 480,000 children aged 14 years and below live in jobless families (ABS, 2021). The lack of employment, in turn, leads to financial challenges, making it difficult for such families to afford healthy foods, quality healthcare, and school fees. It also results in stress due to the inability to solve financial problems. Prolonged unemployment often causes poverty which may encourage crime. Thus, unemployment is a significant problem for many families in Australia.
Many families have experienced the adverse impacts of substance abuse. Research indicates that many individuals are battling addiction, most of which remain untreated. The most prevalent drugs in Australia include alcohol, marijuana, ecstasy, and amphetamines (Smith, 2021). Substance addiction, particularly among parents, adversely affects their families. It may result in financial strain and conflicts with the family or cases of domestic violence due to the aggression involved (Poole, 2019). Another study highlights that 13% of children live in a family where at least one of the parents abuses alcohol. In addition, 2% of children live with an adult who uses marijuana regularly (Government of Western Australia, n.d). Parental substance abuse exposes children to physical and emotional abuse and results in neglect. It may also lead to early drug misuse among the children and expose them to crime. In this case, some adolescents have been reported to binge drink and use cannabis (Smith, 2021). Hence substance abuse is a big challenge affecting both parents and children.
The Impact of Challenges on the Mental Health of Australian Families
Environmental, social, economic, and psychological factors can significantly impact the mental health and wellbeing of family members. Challenges such as domestic violence, unemployment, and substance abuse may negatively affect the psychological health of families. In this case, domestic violence may cause depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or suicidal thoughts among the women in the affected families (Forbes & Watt, 2020). Women who experience family abuse feel afraid and not in control of their lives leading to psychological disturbances. In addition, children who are victims or witnesses of domestic violence may suffer from emotional distress and develop anxiety due to the trauma involved. Therefore, domestic violence causes paranoia and trauma to women and children, leading to mental disorders like depression and anxiety.
Unemployment has been linked to numerous cases of mental disorders. The loss of a job brings feelings of anger, bitterness, and sadness among the adults in the family. Prolonged unemployment causes helplessness among individuals leading to self-doubt and low self-esteem, which triggers anxiety disorders among the affected persons (Bui et al., 2020). Unemployment also causes social isolation, resulting in depression because people who have lost their jobs may not feel confident enough to interact with their peers. The impact of unemployment on mental health is also experienced by other family members, including children. This is because of financial constraints and interacting with their parents, who are frustrated by the inability to get another job.
There is a deep connection between substance abuse and mental health. Substance addiction harms an individual because it alters the balance between the chemicals and processes in the brain. Disturbances in some parts of the brain may impair impulse control, regulation of emotions, and decision making. Research indicates drugs such as nicotine may cause depression and schizophrenia (National Institute of Drug Abuse, 2020). Therefore, individuals abusing drugs have a likelihood of developing acute psychological disorders. Similarly, drug addiction may cause conflicts and strenuous relationships within a family. It may also lead to aggression and violence against other people. Such factors have negative impacts on the family members resulting in stress.
Although Australians prefer fewer children, they place significant importance on families. The family structure has shifted from nuclear to same-sex and one-parent families. Additionally, there is also a considerable percentage of inter-ethnic families. Some of the major problems affecting families in Australia include domestic violence, unemployment, and substance abuse. These challenges may expose families to different mental disorders such as depression, PTSD, and anxiety. Therefore, families should always provide social, emotional, and financial support to each other to overcome any difficulties. This will not only strengthen their ties but also improve their mental health.
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