The Holidays Can Be Hard for People Living with Mental Illness: Tips to Help Make the Holidays Healthy and Bright
December 14, 2017
Having a loved one struggling with mental illness during the holidays can often cause family and friends to wonder what they can do to help without saying or doing something wrong.
With holidays often come with more social gatherings with work colleagues, family and friends. Young adults come home from college; family might be staying in your home; finances are tighter because of gift-giving and holiday celebration. All of these things can cause stress, anxiety and even sadness.
Many people living with mental health challenges also struggle with co-occurring substance use disorders or eating disorders. These clinical issues pose different challenges since many gatherings are food and/or alcohol-centered and eliminating the triggering object is almost impossible.
Here are some ideas that might provide reassurance as you navigate this holiday season:
- First, for your own mental health, take some time to evaluate your expectations, positive or negative, about this time of year. Find ways to reduce the pressure you feel about how things should go and what they should look like.
- Avoid stressful topics at mealtime, like politics, money, treatment, etc.
- Offer understanding if your loved one needs to bow out and/or leave a situation early. Family gatherings can be stimulating and overwhelming. Support them in their choice and don't feel the need to chase after them.
- Avoid giving simple solutions.
- Avoid commenting on mood, weight or appearance. Avoid shaming or blaming.
- Set a positive example. Be mindful how you talk about your own body/weight, and try not to bring up diets.
- If your loved one struggles with substance abuse, consider reworking family traditions that involve alcohol. Your loved one's continued fight toward sobriety is more important than a friend or family member being able to have a drink or two.
- Make an effort to offer festive non-alcoholic options.
Perhaps the biggest gift you can give your loved one this holiday season is validation for what they are going through. Let them know that you see them struggling, and that you are there for them to offer support in whichever way will be most helpful for their healing.
Written by: Yvonne Carrasco is a Primary Therapist at HopeWay. She is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Specialist with over 25 years of experience serving individuals with mental health and addiction disorders. She received her Master's degree in Clinical Social Work at UNC Chapel Hill.
And Andrew Harris, also a Primary Therapist at HopeWay, has 20 years of experience. He specializes in working with clients who have eating disorders and other mental health issues.