In this article we study which characteristics of combining work and family put people at risk for mental illness. Two alternative perspectives on the impact of multiple social roles on mental health are tested: the role accumulation perspective and the role strain perspective. Both perspectives are studied with data from a cross-sectional national survey held among a large, representative sample of Dutch people (N = 1008). Multivariate analyses provided support for both perspectives. Having more social roles was related to better mental health. We also found a positive mental health effect of having a full-time job in combination with having children. However, having a partner who contributes less to household duties or having a job with low decision latitude or lower skill discretion was related to mental illness. So, certain aspects of social roles may also threaten people's mental health. Overall, our findings do not support the idea that combining work and family is necessarily a burden and harmful for people's mental health. Whether multiple social roles are a blessing or burden for people's mental health seems to depend on the characteristics of the social roles. © 2007 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.