By Victor Cass
The Holiday Season is often perceived as a stressful and dark time for many people suffering from mental illnesses, especially depression. While we normally think of Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukah, Christmas, and New Year’s as a time for dressing up, parties, family, feasting, lights, music, and the exchanging of gifts, it is often a stark reminder of the bleak, lonely existences for many, who often remember loved ones gone and expectations dashed. Even though many studies have debunked the notion of increased suicide rates during the holidays, and while seasonal affective disorder is more closely related to the short winter days and cold weather than a lonely Christmas Eve, it doesn’t negate the need to stay in touch with loved ones suffering from depression and other mental illnesses. What can we do to help them get through this tough time, which would normally be a joyous, celebratory part of the year?
As Thanksgiving approaches, there are many things to be thankful for. One of them, for me, is the Internet, where I like to get many of my helpful tips for all kinds of things in life. I perused various self-help, WebMD, and Wiki-esque sites, blending them in with my own experiences of what works, and came up with some of my best suggestions and advice. Here goes:
-For one thing, be thankful that you are in a position to offer loving support, friendship, and assistance to those in need, whether it be a family member, loved one, or member of the public in a charitable fashion. We may never know the impact that our just showing up, offering a helping hand, or kind words can have on improving someone’s outlook. And as I always say, if not you, who? Be the one to make a difference, even if it’s just in one person’s life.
-One of my favorite suggestions is throwing an “orphan’s party.” I remember when I lived in New York City as a young man out of college, in my first career job as an Art Director, Christmas and snow came to the city. I had no family around, but a wealthy account executive buddy of mine took me under his family’s wing, and gave me one of the best holiday seasons ever. While we might not always have rich friends, we can offer up our living room, back patio, or a coffee shop to throw a holiday party for any friends or family who have no family or loved ones to spend Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve with.
-Try to eat healthier! While you or your loved ones may be in various conditions of health, cutting down on fatty, sugary foods will help reduce the feelings of sluggishness, trim the extra pounds, and guard against depression. Eat holiday treats in moderation and try healthier staples like fruits, nuts, and salads. While you’re at it, cut back on the liquor, too, as we must remember that those holiday spirits are depressants. Try sipping “virgin” drinks, tea, coffee, or juices.
-Be thankful that you have “choices.” Choose to create a new holiday tradition, one more suited to you and your loved one’s emotional/mental state. Choose to remember gone loved ones in more positive ways. Instead of being sad about their passing, think of creative ways to celebrate their life and their impact on you and your loved ones. Choose to lower your expectations of the holidays, taking the pressure off that they be “perfect,” and instead try to look at them like any other day.
-For those on medication, make sure that they take their doses on time, especially during the holidays, and that their prescriptions are refilled in a timely manner. If your loved one sees a therapist, it might not hurt to schedule an extra session during the holidays, even if it’s just a quick “checking in” phone call.
-Don’t be afraid to ask for specific help from established support systems, whether other friends, family, or organizations like NAMI. Whether it be helping wrap presents, putting up holiday decorations, or cooking, most people are willing to lend a hand, they just need to know how they can best assist you in your time of need.
The Holiday Season doesn’t have to be a sad or lonely time for you or your loved ones, even if there is a struggle with a mental illness on board. With a little creativity, planning aforethought, and teamwork, you can make a big difference in bringing a little holiday cheer to not only yourself, but also any person at risk for the holiday blues.