The festive season is often portrayed as a time of joy, togetherness, and merriment. It's a time when families come together to celebrate, share traditions, and create cherished memories.
However, for individuals impacted by complex mental health issues and their caregivers, the season can bring a unique set of challenges. These are discussed, with strategies on how to manage them.
One of the most significant challenges faced by individuals with mental ill-health during the holidays is the feeling of isolation, even when surrounded by family. It's not uncommon for those with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia to feel detached from the festive spirit, despite being in the presence of loved ones. Here are several reasons why:
Social Stigma: The pervasive social stigma surrounding mental ill-health can make
individuals hesitant to open up about their struggles. This can lead to a sense of isolation, even among family members who might not fully understand their experiences.
High Expectations: The pressure to be "merry and bright" during the holidays can be overwhelming. People with mental health issues may feel forced to put on a façade, adding to their feelings of loneliness.
Inadequate Support: Family members might not be equipped to provide the necessary support and understanding, leading to a sense of disconnection and frustration.
Communicate: Your mental health can fluctuate every day, and even frequently through the day. Some days and moments are better than others. So at any time you’re struggling, be open with family members or close friends about your emotions and needs. Simply communicating that you’re not okay right now can take the pressure off yourself, and help others better understand you.
Set Boundaries: Be proactive in setting boundaries and managing expectations that others may have of you. Also be realistic about the expectations you set on yourself. It's perfectly okay to decline social gatherings or limit your involvement to avoid excessive stress.
Seek Support: Look for support groups or online communities of people who share similar experiences. Connecting with individuals who can relate to your challenges can reduce feelings of isolation.
Support groups can be found at the following organisations:
Caring for a loved one with mental ill-health can be emotionally and physically demanding, and the holidays can amplify the stress and strain on caregivers. Here are some of the common challenges they encounter:
Balancing Care and Celebrations: Caregivers often find themselves torn between their caregiving responsibilities and the desire to participate in family celebrations. This can lead to feelings of guilt and frustration.
Emotional Toll: Witnessing a loved one struggle with their mental health can be emotionally draining. The holiday season can intensify these emotions, making it a particularly challenging time for caregivers.
Lack of Support: Caregivers may not receive the recognition and support they need from other family members. This can compound their stress and feelings of isolation and resentment.
Self-Care: Remember that you need to take care of yourself in order to effectively care for others. Make time for self-care activities, even if it means stepping away from the festivities for a short while. You must ignore any feelings of guilt or pressured thoughts about your obligations.
Seek Assistance: Don't be afraid to ask for help. Reach out to friends and family members for support in caregiving duties, allowing you some respite.
Connect with Others: Consider joining a support group for caregivers. Sharing your experiences with others who understand your challenges can be incredibly comforting and enlightening.
Online and phone counselling support for carers can be found at:
The holidays can be both a time of joy and a period of immense challenge for individuals impacted by mental ill-health and their caregivers.
The feeling of isolation among family members during the festive season is common, but it can be addressed through open communication, setting boundaries, and seeking support.
Caregivers, too, can navigate the difficulties of the season by prioritising self-care, seeking assistance, and connecting with others who face similar challenges.
Dr. Carissa Coulston is a Clinical Psychologist with specialist knowledge in the areas of depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, intellectual disability, personality disorders, traumatic brain injury and neurological conditions.