This time of year can prove to be challenging for those living with a mental illness, as well as their loved ones. In an effort to alleviate some of the pitfalls that come along with the holidays, we wanted to send a quick excerpt from the book When Someone You Love has a Mental Illness by Rebecca Woods on how to better prepare and hopefully avoid holiday heartache.
Holidays tend to be especially stressful for families experiencing a mental illness.
- There are often implied, if not specific, expectations of certain types of behaviors (e.g., exchanging gifts, socializing), feelings (happiness), etc. that are hard to live up to.
Large groups can be over-stimulating and confusing for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.
- Holidays can be painful reminders of times past when things were better, thus highlighting present difficulties related to coping with a mental illness.
- Family get-togethers can raise the issue of what to tell people about the illness, the life of the individual diagnosed with a mental illness, etc.
- Holidays lend themselves to ill individuals comparing themselves unfavorably to other, non-disabled or more accomplished relatives. Other family members can experience survivor’s guilt.
Families can reduce holiday stress by:
- discussing plans in advance
- acknowledging feelings related to holidays and being with family members, including any mixed feelings people may have;
- not making assumptions about how individuals feel or which.what kind of activities family members want to be a part of;
- keeping expectations realistic, especially regarding whether the family member diagnosed with a mental illness can tolerate a family/social gathering, for how long and what participation the person is capable of;
- respecting and supporting each family member’s choices and decisions regarding participation in family activities/get-togethers;
- accepting each family member’s limits, needs and preferences;
- being flexible and allowing for some changes in plans and participation, when possible; and
- strategizing how to handle some of the stress, e.g., how to answer personal questions, what tasks each person will focus on, how long to stay at get-togethers, where get-togethers will be held, taking breaks, etc.