One in three of us will be effected by mental health in our lifetime. The statistics are not just there to enhance the tireless television campaigns; the reality is raw. With mental health in children alone having risen by 48% since 2004, the growing problem is spreading like wildfire through the generations, presenting itself in an assortment of labels and a tick list of symptoms.
Mental illness comes in all shapes and sizes, and in breaking down the stigma surrounding each and every one of them, we also need to realise that there is no ‘one size fits all’ category when it comes to signs, symptoms, and indeed the way one deals with their demons.
It goes without saying that there is no ‘right time’ to have a mental illness, and everybody’s condition and triggers are entirely unique to them. However, as a general rule, Christmas can prove to be notoriously detrimental to one’s mental well-being. A sudden influx of social gatherings can present as an incredibly overwhelming disposition. While a steady stream of parties, events and food can make the festive season for many of us, it has to be understood that to others, this can alight a whole host of anxieties and insecurities.
While everyone is different, mental illness can catapult one into a pit of loneliness. Some of this alone-time may well be craved during particular periods of darkness, but it can be hard for one to differentiate between the desire to be granted with some head space, and the eventual feeling of unintentional loneliness. Cancelling plans with friends and withdrawing from social activities can be classic signs of various mental illnesses.
With more visitors than usual gracing the average household, Christmas can create an increase of questions, small talk, and general catching-up between families and friends (Aunty Pat’s infamous annual intrusion of “So, have you got a boyfriend yet?” is pretty much a tradition). For some, the constant enquiries about one’s personal life can be a bit too much to handle, especially when they are feeling far from uplifted by their current situation.
If a loved one is struggling with their mental health over the festive period, remember to remain patient. Asking questions can have the opposite effect, and can leave one feeling exposed, harassed and anxious. Mental illnesses are cruel, and can distort the sufferer’s personality and sense. It’s imperative to realise that they are fighting an often silent battle inside of their own heads – something that to many of us, is unimaginable torture.
As frustrating as it can be to watch somebody self-destruct, please don’t use guilt-tripping tactics, or dismiss any behaviours as attention seeking, irrational or selfish. Unfortunately, the sufferer often has to free themselves and make the decision when it comes to taking steps towards recovery, so no amount of emotional blackmail, begging, or despair will have a positive effect.
Ensure that you always invite and include your loved one. If they refuse an outing one hundred times over, do not give up or exclude them. The one time you don’t ask might well be the one time they may actually take you up on the offer, and not inviting them could cause them to question whether or not their company is wanted.
Plastering on a smile when all you feel like doing is breaking down is exhausting. If somebody expresses that they need some time out, then this must be respected, no matter what.
Got a friend that keeps inexplicably ducking out of meet-ups and meals out? Why not offer to pop round to theirs for a DVD night? Try to avoid prying, no matter how concerned you might be. Simply ask how they are feeling in a casual manner, and if nothing in depth is offered as a response, then move on and steer the conversation towards normality. They will open up in their own time, when they are feeling ready.
It sounds like a cliché, but just sending a simple text can remind our friends that they are not facing this alone. A funny meme, a sudden memory of a good time you spent together, or a link to song that you know they love- even if you don’t get a response, I can guarantee that these gestures will be appreciated.
If you are finding Christmas a testing time, the most important thing is to be kind to yourself.
If it’s all too much, take five; take as long as you need!
In the run up to Christmas, speak to a friend or family member about possible setbacks that may occur over the holidays. Advise in advance the best ways that others can help you to deal with these setbacks, whether that be by giving you some space, or arranging an appointment with the doctor on your behalf. This way, if you need to just slip off to your room, or head out for a long, wintry walk to clear your mind and chill you out, no questions will be asked.
You need to give yourself some credit – you are coping with suppressing issues and still managing to get up in the morning and live your life - you are already stronger than you believe, and you are winning this battle, no matter how long the victory might take.
Take it one day at a time; it is perfectly normal to have bad days, but these won’t last forever. Try to focus on the little things that make you the happiest: a nice hot bubble bath, pizza for tea, or a stroll with the dog.
Don’t feel consumed by the pressure of the season; if something isn’t suited to you, then don’t force yourself to participate. Feeling daunted by the prospect of the office Christmas party? Don’t stress. People are often unable to make Christmas functions for various reasons, from being strapped for cash, to simply being double-booked and too busy. Don’t feel bad or worry about what others might think – when it comes to your health, sometimes you need to be selfish and put yourself first.
The thought of heading into busy town for Christmas shopping making you want to weep? Fire up the laptop, and get your shopping done form the comfort of your sofa, with a mug of hot chocolate and Elf playing in the background.
Having a tough day and suddenly not feeling up to that big family get-together you agreed to? Explain how you are feeling to a family member you trust, and suggest that you all get together some time in the New Year instead.
An illness I would particularly like to highlight is anorexia...
One of the most popular and alluring connotations of Christmas is, without the doubt, the food. Pigs in blankets, a plate brimming with roast dinner delights, and never-ending boxes of Roses and Quality Street… Heaven, right? Wrong.
Anorexia is often defined by an extremely unhealthy relationship with food. Something that should present as a second nature actually becomes a terrifying ordeal to comprehend every single day.
Typically, an anorexia sufferer will actively attempt to avoid food at all costs, so being suddenly faced with a constant cycle of calorific snacks can be the cause of a lot of anxiety.
Sitting down at the dinner table on Christmas Day, knowing all eyes are on you and the plate in-front of you is an intimidating feeling.
If a loved one is battling with an eating disorder, strive to make Christmas as stress-free as possible.
If someone suffering from an eating disorder accepts a chocolate from the jar, or helps themselves to another portion of roast potatoes, don’t make a fuss, despite the joy you will inevitably be feeling. Aim to maintain a level of normality.
Likewise, if they are visibly refusing food, don’t revert to forcibly bombarding them with offerings of goodies.
Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, and there is a solution to every problem - is it just about finding what works best for you.
If you, a loved one, or somebody you know is suffering, remember that there is support available 24/7, 7 days a week via various anonymous platforms.
MIND – 0300 123 3393
SAMARITANS - 116 123 / firstname.lastname@example.org
CALM (helping to prevent male suicide) – 0800 5858 58
CHILDLINE (for young people under the age of 19) – 0800 1111
YOUNG MINDS (for parents and carers concerned about the well-being of a young person) – 0808 802 5544
BEAT (for help and support with eating disorders) – 0808 801 0677
Post written by Cara Jasmine Bradley