Supporting Individuals Struggling with Mental Health During the Holidays

Supporting Individuals Struggling with Mental Health During the Holidays

When I look around, I see lights everywhere. I see couples holding hands. The air even smells festive. But the fact of the matter is, people everywhere are struggling in different ways. What they have in common is that they mostly sit back and observe, not wanting to disrupt the festivities.

I’m here to let those of you sitting back quietly know that it’s not a disruption. In fact, I think it’s a risk. While others might be uncomfortable with whatever it is we’re dealing with, that doesn’t mean we have to keep quiet. I think we owe it to ourselves to speak up.

I’m pretty passionate about this. In my last blog, Stigma’s Surrounding Mental Health & Bullying, I talked about breaking the silence. In a recent radio interview, I also mentioned the importance of having conversations regarding suicide and grieving.

If we don’t, it builds inside of us until we burst and no one wants that. So, even if it’s an awkward moment, we’ll get through it.

For those of you who aren’t struggling, consider this: Those who have lost loved ones are surrounded by love. Those who struggle with depression are surrounded by joy.

An often forgotten but prevalent issue stares us in the face, as well. The holiday season brings food, and those struggling with body image or weight can’t escape it. Over eating. Under eating. Whether it’s cookies at the office or holiday dinners, the holidays are all about eating, plain and simple.

And let’s not forget about drinking. Alcohol seems to be everywhere during the holidays. Whether it’s cocktail parties or giving wine as a gift, it’s everywhere. That’s certainly a trigger and temptation for those who struggle with alcohol.

It should come as no surprise, then, that suicides, relapses, and hospitalizations all increase this time of year. The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that 40 to 60 percent of people recovering from addiction will relapse, primarily due to stress and being around the drug. Holiday gatherings, stress over finances during gift-giving season, and simply being around family can be triggering. While many industries slow down or even shut down for the holidays, the mental health field is the exact opposite.

So please be aware. You never know what people are going through, and while that’s true every day of the year, the holidays seem to magnify everything.

To speak candidly, the last two years have been so difficult for me. Until I lost Jim, I did not understand how painful it is to be surrounded by love. Of course I love seeing people happy, but it’s also a reminder of how deeply I miss him.

Here are some tips to help you be mindful and supportive of those around you.

  1. Don’t shy away from us. We’re not contagious. I know our pain makes some uncomfortable, but that one person who will give us a hug or sit with us makes a very difficult time less difficult. You remind us why we keep fighting and why we attended the event we’re at.
  2. Please have compassion. I promise you, it’s harder for us to hide our struggles than it is to just be who we are. We know it might be uncomfortable for you at first, but please recognize that this is not against you, it’s for us.
  3. Feel free to ask us questions. Everyone has different boundaries so just be respectful. Most people would love to discuss and raise awareness if you’re willing.
  4. Meet us where we’re at. Not everyone enjoys loud parties and get togethers. Consider who you’re interacting with and what their needs are. Many friends met me at the dog park or at my home, coming over in jammies with dinner.  It’s about who you’re with, not where.
  5. Decisions can be stressful or down right difficult. Asking, “do you need anything?” while so thoughtful, can be overwhelming. Offer 2-3 choices that are in your comfort zone such as, “can I stop by with dinner or pick up anything at the store on my way over?” Eliminate the thinking and stress altogether!!

For those of you struggling, remember that you’re not alone. The simple act of telling someone that you’re having a tough time doesn’t only help you, it helps someone else!! You don’t have to share private details. You can just decide not to struggle alone.

Not only is it ok to be who we are, it’s a gift!! I say give yourself the gift of being you. You’re the only you out there!!

I hope this helps you in some way.  Please pass it along to someone else it might help during this holiday season.

With gratitude & love,

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