Mental Health and the Holidays
For many, the holidays bring a renewed sense of community and joy. It can be a time of connection, rest, and celebration. However, for those who struggle with mental illness, the holidays can have an opposite effect. One in five adults in the United States experience mental illness throughout the year. Often, something called the “holiday blues” can occur in those who do not struggle with mental illness and can compound mental health problems for those who do.
Why the holidays can trigger depressive episodes
The “holiday blues” should not be confused with Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), as it can occur during any holiday, not just the cold, dark winter months. It is not the weather that triggers a sense of sadness or loneliness, but is brought on by holiday-related factors. These factors can be but are not limited to:
- not being able to see loved ones
- lack of financial security to be able to participate in celebrations
- negative memories of past holidays
- unrealistic expectations on the holiday to consistently bring a sense of peace and joy.For most, the holiday blues often subside after the holiday season ends. However, those struggling with mental illness need a lot more support and resources to bounce back. In a recent survey from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 40% of those who were already diagnosed with a mental illness reported that holidays make their symptoms worse.2How to spot the “holiday blues” in loved onesSymptoms of the “holiday blues” are similar to clinical depression. Loved ones might be more irritated than normal, feel a misplaced or an inappropriate amount of guilt, seem distant, or seem uninterested in activities that would normally bring them joy. It is also not unusual for those suffering to drink more alcohol or engage in reckless behaviors in order to distract from their suffering.
How to help
If you personally are struggling with the “holiday blues” or mental illness over the holidays, there are a few proactive and reactive things you can do:
- Inform family and friends in advance of your limits.
- Avoid alcohol when feeling stressed or down (alcohol is a depressant)
- See a therapist before the holidays to process any anxieties or negative feelings.
- Find someone in need or an organization you are passionate about to serve over theholidays.
- Create new memories and traditions with positive and supportive people.
In order to effectively help your loved ones over the holidays:
- Be sensitive to their limitations.
- Engage with them in positive, active ways.
- Help them create new memories associated with the holiday.
- Listen to how they feel and let them know you are there for them.
- Be proactive and access some local mental health resources in Arkansas athttps://www.rtor.org/mental-health-arkansas/For emergency situations, dial 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.To learn more about how to practically support the Arkansas mental health movement this holiday season, sign up for our action alerts at http://armindsmatter.org/#actionalerts.