The holiday season can be stressful for the best of us, and for those (like myself) living with mental illness it can be extremely challenging. I feel like one of the questions I hear most is, “how can I be supportive of my friend or family member with mental illness during the holidays?” Here are five great places to start!
5. Invite them over
Many of the people I know who are struggling this time of year don’t get along well with their families, and therefore have no place to go during the holidays. If you can invite them over for Christmas dinner with your family that would be swell, but even just inviting them over to spend time together one on one or in a small group around that time can be incredibly uplifting when it can be hard to get out of the house. That said,
4. Don’t take it personally if they don’t make it over
Many times, just the invitation of having someplace to go is nice, but sometimes this prospect can be overwhelming or our current mental state isn’t exactly polished enough to feel comfortable in a large social setting. Our discomfort often arises from our moods, anxiety, or medications, not the person kind enough to invite us over. If you’ve invited someone over to your party, gathering, or other social event, please remember that if we say no, it isn’t a reflection on you.
3. Encourage them to arrive late, leave early, or take a breather from the party
I know I’ve often felt pressure from folks at parties when I expressed that I needed to leave early (often because of mood swings or side effects from medications) and being encouraging of your friend or family member during a social gathering to arrive or leave when they need to, or even to take a breather outside to get out of the crowd can be extremely helpful. When I know people are grateful that I came to an event, even if just for a little while, I’m much more likely to feel comfortable enough to go again.
2. Try to avoid the pressure of gift-giving
While many people with mental illness do perfectly fine for themselves monetarily, there are also many of us who can’t work because of our situation. Though it is always nice to receive a gift, it can feel very stressful knowing you don’t have anything to give in return. My family has done something this year that has really, really helped me with this; they’ve expressed they’re more interested in spending time with me than receiving gifts. Putting focus on being able to spend time with someone that you love or care about instead of the gift-giving aspect of the holidays can be a big stress relief.
1. Let them know how much they mean to you
Maybe the person you want to feel supported is someone you see regularly, and it is easy to tell them how much they mean to you. If not, a phone call is a great option, or even sending a card with a note inside in the mail. Personally, I shy away from messages through electronic means (email, text, and facebook) as I find they feel more impersonal and actually make me feel more isolated and depressed. If you’re sending a message of love, why not make it feel as personal as possible!