This year has flown by, and we’ll soon be entering the festive season. While for most of us, the Christmas period is a wonderful time where we enjoy spending time with family, eating and drinking too much, and exchanging gifts. However, for a number of us, the festive season can be incredibly difficult. This is especially the case with those of us who live with mental health conditions. In research carried out by mental health charity Mind, it was found that one in ten people struggle to cope at Christmas, while 28% felt pressure to have ‘the perfect Christmas.’ If there’s someone in your life who lives with a mental health condition, it can be difficult to know how you can support them during this time of year. So, as someone with a mental health condition, I’ve put together my top five tips on how you can support your loved ones during the festive season.
In the same study by Mind, it was found that while 17% of people felt loneliest over the Christmas period, this was more than doubled for those who lived with a mental health problem. It can be easy to get caught up in all the excitement over the festive season, but it’s still important to take some time out to check in with your friend or loved one. Even if it’s a quick message on WhatsApp to ask how they’re doing, just letting someone know that you’re thinking of them can make a world of difference.
For some of us, having plenty of social events planned can be incredibly exciting over Christmas. However for someone living with a mental health condition it can seem like torture and can cause huge amounts of anxiety. This is why it’s important to know your loved one’s limits and to make sure you don’t put too much pressure on them. Having said that, don’t automatically assume they won’t want to come to a particular event. As someone who has not been invited to things because “we didn’t think you’d be up to it,” it’s incredibly hurtful and if anything made me feel worse. Sometimes just the simple act of being included is enough to know that your friends are still thinking of you. If they don’t want to join you at certain gatherings, accept that, but make sure they know that they’re still welcome if they change their mind.
Educating yourself on your loved one’s mental health condition can be useful when it comes to supporting them. Not only will it help to tackle any misconceptions you might have about their condition, but you can also learn more about it which will in turn mean you can better support them. Of course you don’t need to spend hours pouring over a psychology textbook, but just reading a few basics on their condition and how it affects them will help you get a better idea of how they feel and may even give you some pointers on how you can help them. Mind is a great place to start and you can find a whole list of mental health conditions here.
Different mental health conditions mean that certain activities and events can be difficult for the person who has them. For example, my OCD means that I’m always anxious about social gatherings because of the increased risk of germs and illness during the winter months. I always panic that someone at the event I’m going to be ill or they will have been recently and they’ll still be contagious. It’s exhausting. In the case of someone with an eating disorder, they may find the focus on food at Christmas to be very triggering, or in someone with anxiety they may find the thought of going to a big family party to be really stressful. It’s important to take this into account when it comes to those big social events over Christmas and to realise that your loved one may find them difficult. Planning smaller activities like meeting them for a coffee or just popping round for a chat will place less pressure on them and will also allow you to spend some quality time with them.
This is by far the most important. Yes it’s Christmas, but that’s no reason to blame or get angry with a loved one just because they aren’t feeling up to whatever you’ve got planned. I’m sure I’ll speak for everyone with a mental condition when I say that the guilt we feel for doing it is more than enough to deal with. I’ve cancelled plans at the last minute due to my anxiety playing up or because I haven’t been feeling my best, and the guilt that comes with it is more than enough to deal with. Having someone have a go at you or passive aggressively place the blame on you is not going to make things better. If anything, it puts you in a worse place than what you were to begin with. It may be frustrating for you, but chances are that person will have fought with themselves A LOT before they made the decision to bail, so go easy on them. Instead, ask them if they’re okay and let them know that you’re here for them. It’ll make a whole world of difference.
Of course, these aren’t things we should just be doing over Christmas, we should be doing them all year round. However, Christmas can be a tough time for someone living with a mental health condition, so make sure that you look out for your loved ones. Most importantly, be kind and be patient.
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