With the holidays just around the corner, it’s important to know that this can be a very difficult time of year for those with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Family gatherings can be overwhelming and conversations, at times, can feel more like interrogations. Yet your help in supporting someone with mental illness can be one of the most satisfying gifts you can share. With this in mind, our team of mental health professionals have put together a list of dos and don’ts to help you make a difference for your loved ones this holiday season and beyond. 

  • Do:

    • Invite them into the conversation. For those with mental illness, connecting with others can be challenging. By engaging them in conversation, you can help them feel less isolated and give them the confidence they need to jump in in the future. 
    • Let them know you’re there to support them. Tell them that they can talk to you about what they’re feeling without judgment. Be sure to do this privately.
    • Learn their signs.
      • Do they become disengaged when there are too many people around? Ask them to go with you to another room with less people.
      • Do they seem uncomfortable about a particular topic of conversation? Try steering the conversation to another topic they would be more comfortable with.
      • Is there a particular individual who they are uncomfortable around? If they seem trapped in a conversation with this individual, join them so they are not alone, or help them leave the conversation.
    • Set realistic expectations.
      • Allow time for breaks. For people with depression and anxiety, events can be exhausting. During the holidays, we tend to schedule a lot of social gatherings while people are in town. Scheduling events back to back can be too much for someone with mental illness. Try scheduling off days or breaks between events so they can recharge.
  • Don’t

    • Ask leading questions. For example, “Are you planning to go back to work soon?”  While it may be unintentional, leading questions share how you expect the person to answer. For someone who is asked the question above, any answer other than ‘yes’, may seem like the wrong answer. This could cause them to feel stressed, inadequate, or put on the spot. Instead, give them the freedom to share their interests with you by asking open-ended questions. 
    • Force them to do things that make them uncomfortable. Getting someone out of their comfort zone can be beneficial, but when done at an already overwhelming time like the holidays, it can have the opposite of the intended effect. While it’s a good idea to make others feel included, make sure you are asking, not telling.
    • Dismiss their feelings. While you may be intending to relate to the person, comments like “everyone feels sad at times” can make the individual feel like you are downplaying their disease. It’s important to understand that there is a difference between everyday sadness and depression. Learn more in our recent article: Am I depressed? 
    • Hold to rigid schedules. Know that a depressive episode can hit at any time regardless of the date on the calendar. Be flexible with plans if needed.

Special Considerations During COVID-19

When supporting someone with mental illness, such as PTSD, depression or anxiety, understand that COVID can be extremely overwhelming for the individual. Let them know it’s okay to be extra cautious to stay safe, whether that means wearing a mask to a gathering or staying home altogether. Those with anxiety often over analyze their decisions and will stress over how others will react. Being supportive of their decisions will go a long way to reduce their anxiety.