How to Support Your Loved Ones Living With Mental Illness This Holiday Season

by Holly Garcia
Originally Published: 

I simultaneously love and dread this time of year. The holidays are wonderful, magical, and full of quality time spent with our loved ones. It’s heartwarming and fun to bask in the good vibes glory, well, most of us. If you’re someone who lives with mental illness or struggles with their mental health, all the holly-jolliness of the season can feel overwhelming.

Everyone expects you to be happy and joyful, but sometimes it’s all too much. It’s not that you don’t want to decorate the tree, wrap the gifts, and bake the cookies. It’s just that depression and anxiety don’t have an off-and-on switch. You don’t get to choose the days when the depression feels so heavy that you can’t get out of bed. Anxiety doesn’t care if Christmas is right around the corner.

Living with mental health challenges during the holidays is hard. We’re talking feeling next to impossible-level challenging. On top of that, finding the energy to explain this to people who don’t struggle with their mental health is downright exhausting. So for those who are trying to find balance, we totally get it. Never fear, because you are not alone. And for others who are trying to figure out how to support loved ones this holiday, let’s talk about how you can best help.

Support Loved Ones By…

Just Listening

Listening is one of the most undervalued tools to support someone suffering through mental health challenges. In fact, according to Mental Health First Aid, “Most people experiencing distressing emotions and thoughts want an empathetic listener before being offered helpful options and resources.”

Most of the time, there won’t be an immediate or easy answer to helping our loved ones. Telling them to “get over” the feelings their depression leaves them with isn’t something they would have already done if they could. So, instead of inundating people with solutions that aren’t actually solutions, the most helpful thing to do is listen.

Encouraging Self-Compassion

Do you know what people who struggle with their mental health are really good at? Having compassion, for everyone. You know, except themselves. Self-compassion isn’t complicated. It’s simply about talking to yourself the way you would a loved one.

If someone you care about is understanding of the struggles and shortcomings of other people in your circle, remind them to give themselves the same amount of grace. They should speak just as kindly to themselves as they would anyone else.

Supporting Self-Care

Self-care looks different for everyone. Maybe it’s some quiet time for your loved one away from all the chaos of the holidays. Or, perhaps it’s helping them out with their to-do list. This empowers them to make space to focus on themselves.

Self-care doesn’t have to involve a spa or bubble bath (though we wouldn’t be mad about that either). It’s about having time to sit with your anxieties and depression and journal through it, meditate, or simply breathe.

What We Want You to Take Away

Before seeking professional treatment for my mental health challenges, I suffered for many years silently. Anniversaries, birthdays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas would go by on a loop, and I’d plaster a fake smile on my face and push through.

Finally, I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to be present with my family. What helped me regain these moments was recognizing that feelings of anxiety and depression are just as important as feelings of joy and happiness. With support from my loved ones, therapy, and other tools, I am able to be more present for the moments that matter.

So please, don’t suffer in silence. Don’t let another holiday go by thinking that there is a right or wrong way to do it. When it comes to living with mental illness, some days will be harder, and some days will be easier. Regardless, you deserve to enjoy the holidays. So lean on your loved ones, because guess what? They want to enjoy them with you too.

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