The holiday season from Thanksgiving to New Year's does not always bring cheer to everyone, especially for people who are living with mental illness.
The Holiday Blues
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) conducted a survey in 2014 and found that the majority of people diagnosed with mental illness struggle with the holiday season. Approximately 24 percent of those surveyed reported that the holiday season makes their condition "a lot worse," while 40 percent said that it made their condition "somewhat worse."
"The holiday season beams a spotlight on everything that is difficult about living with depression," said an anonymous woman from Massachusetts who was involved in the survey. "The pressure to be joyful and social is tenfold."
Stress, high-expectations, and loneliness during the holiday season contribute to what is called the "holiday blues," a seasonal condition that specifically happens this time of the year. It does not just happen to people diagnosed with depression, but it can also stem from a variety of sources, such as current events, personal grief, relationship issues, economic concerns, etc.
In most cases, the condition is temporary. However, if symptoms last for more than two weeks, it could lead to more serious mental health issues such as clinical anxiety and depression.
Of the respondents, 68 percent were financially strained, 66 percent have experienced loneliness, 63 percent felt pressured, 57 percent have unrealistic expectations, 55 percent longed for happier times, and 50 percent were unable to celebrate with loved ones.
Caring For Mental Health During The Holiday Season
According to NAMI, there are plenty of ways to avoid or minimize the holiday blues, one of which is to stop drinking. Alcohol is a depressant and drinking can only exacerbate stress.
It is also important to be realistic instead of worrying about how things should be. As participants of the survey say, "keep expectations low" and "create new memories" instead of dwelling in the past.
When things start to feel overwhelming, take a step back. NAMI adds that not everything has to be perfect. Even during the holidays, it is necessary to have some "me-time," even for just half an hour a day.
NAMI also warned that even children and teens experience holiday blues.
"[T]his is not an easy time of year for a lot of people," added Ken Duckworth, medical director of NAMI. "Be gentle with yourself."