For many, Christmas is an exciting celebration, but for the 1 in 4 people with a mental illness it may be a time of sadness or worry. If you know someone struggling with a mental health problem, they may need a little extra support over the Christmas period.
Those with mental health problems often have to put on a mask and appear happy from day to day, and this can become even harder as the festive period promotes happiness and joy all around. Whilst Christmas promotes happiness in society, it can exacerbate the situation those with mental health problems face.
We asked people for their top tips on how to support someone with a mental health problem this Christmas. Here’s what you could do to help:
- Don’t pressure them. I know you probably want Christmas to be perfect and want your loved one to enjoy it, and you also want them to be well. But at a time which is already laden with stress, any additional pressure could be enough to make someone snap. Know that they are doing the best they can and try to support them with that. – Cara
- Be there for them. Remind them you are there to talk to and if they need anything you’ll be there. Find out what their limits are and what you can do to help and what they need to feel safe and happy. If you’re not spending Christmas with them, remind them you’re at the end of the phone if they need you. – Jordan and Maja
- Remind them it’s ok to feel how they’re feeling. At this time of year it's even more important that people don’t struggle in silence. It's the time for love, family and friends, gift giving and heartfelt messages; but sometimes the wall comes up and the fake smile is used for fear of bringing down the festive joy with sadness. No gift could change this feeling, no amount of presents under the tree, no amount of overly elaborate Christmas wrapping could help. To be told that it's ok to feel this way, to have a friend or loved one validate your feelings is a gift. - Emma
- Spend time with them. Invite them round for a brew and a chat or even invite them round for Christmas dinner so they haven’t got to worry about getting food and spending loads of money. - Jordan
- Organise some Christmas activities that don’t centre around food. Contrary to almost every advert at this time of year, there is more to Christmas than just food. Try to come up with a selection of other activities that have nothing to do with food such as films or games – this will hopefully give those struggling with an eating disorder a little bit of respite from the worries of the day. - Cara
- Don’t draw attention to them. Commenting on what someone is or isn’t eating is rude, whether they have an eating disorder or not. But at a time full of anxiety, drawing any additional attention to that person is going to make them incredibly uncomfortable. - Cara
- Avoid social comparisons. Let them know they can enjoy this Christmas period in their own way, and that they do not have to conform to the ideals and general expectations of society. Remind them that it's just like any other day so there's no need to feel bad if it doesn't go smoothly. – Iestyn, Maja and Sophie
- Remind them it’s ok to say no. Stress levels are susceptible to rising during the Christmas period. Saying ‘no’ can be difficult if they feel pressured to join in with events and activities. Let them know they don’t have to go to every Christmas event they are invited to or take part in every Christmas activity. - Iestyn
- Listen. Sometimes all you need to do is listen. You don’t need to fix the problem or come up with a solution, just be there to listen. - Sophie
- Encourage them to take some time out if they need it. Let them know it’s ok to take some time for themselves if they start to feel overwhelmed. They might need a bit of self-care time to relax and rest- socialising and being on the go all the time can be draining. - Sophie
Christmas is a sign that the New Year is just around the corner. A time that marks new beginnings and makes it easier for fresh starts, hence New Year’s resolutions. No one knows what the future will hold but everyone with mental health problems knows there’s still a battle ahead. So, if in 2019 you can help be a soldier in their battle, pick up your weapon.