By Alison Taylor, ATI Advocacy Intern
December 20, 2022
Trigger warnings: The following will discuss suicide, mental health, and mental illness.
Is It the Most Wonderful Time of the Year?
The holiday season can easily be both the best and worst time of year. While it is advertised as when we gather with loved ones and share gratitude, it can also be a time of heightened stress and mental health struggles – even for those without mental illness diagnoses.
In fact, a recent survey of 2,000 adults found that 88% of them consider the holidays to be the most stressful time of year. Stress can manifest into isolation, exhaustion, anxiety, depression, or even delusional thinking, manic episodes, or suicidal ideations. Whether you are concerned about your well-being or someone else’s, consider the following and do not be afraid to check in with the people you care about.
What Makes the Holidays Hard?
- Financial stress: High grocery and gas prices means even the simplest of holiday gatherings can get expensive quickly. Add in pressures to give gifts, splurge on a fresh-cut Christmas tree, or travel out of town, and it can become disheartening or impossible. Many lower-income households may not have these options to begin with; their focus might be keeping the heat on or making rent.
- Service workers do not get a break: For every person that gets paid time off during the holidays, there is a service worker that does not. This may be due to company policy, low wages, or working more to save for presents or upcoming bills (such as heat and other utilities that are most costly in the winter). Would you willingly choose to be a retail worker on Black Friday? If not, please treat them and other service workers with compassion and respect as they work so that others can shop, eat, and celebrate.
- Relationship / family stress: Some folks are not welcome home because of their sexual orientation; others dread uncomfortable stand-offs when politics come up. Divorce, custody agreements, or being new parents can make logistics and relationships tense. Grief and loss, whether recent or past, can also bring up complex feelings for people as they navigate the holidays without loved ones.
- Pressure to meet expectations: Even if you have somewhere to go for holiday celebrations, you may not want to! For some, a quiet day at home with their cat and a good movie is enough. However, if you choose to go out, there may be pressures to look or act a certain way. You may be urged to participate at a level you’re not financially comfortable with. Children or teenagers may experience anxiety or behave differently if they are going to someone’s house that is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, or unaccommodating to them.
- Isolation: If you are a person with disabilities or immunocompromised, you might be left out of plans because the location is not accessible, or folks are not willing to get vaccinated to ensure your safety. You may have dietary needs that are not considered or worse, scorned. In other cases, people unable to take off work during the holidays end up spending them alone. Others are estranged from loved ones or cannot afford to travel to be with them (such as college students). There are also those who withdraw socially during the holidays because of seasonal depression or past trauma.
- Increased substance abuse and relapses: Studies show that drug and alcohol use increases during the holidays as well as substance use related accidents or deaths. If you or someone you know is in recovery, be mindful that the stress of the season can lead people, especially those who are newly sober, to relapse. It is helpful to make sure non-alcoholic beverages are available at gatherings, or alcohol is omitted entirely depending on the circumstances.
- Potential for decreased services: Therapists and behavioral health providers are people too, and many take time off around the holidays. Unfortunately, this can mean that their clients do not have access to a mental health provider that they know and trust. The resources listed below may be helpful in the meantime for individuals who need other means of support.
Resources and Support
Check out our Facebook page for helpful mental health tips!
If you or someone you know is struggling with their mental health, please know there is help available. Visit NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) at nami.org to access free education, resources, and advocacy services, or find your local affiliate. Mental Health America is another valuable support system and offers these resources as well as a local affiliate finder.
If you are in crisis or having suicidal thoughts, please reach out; you can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing ‘988’ or 1-800-273-8255. This service is available 24/7 and is free and confidential to all callers. Do not hesitate to call 911 if you need immediate hands-on care or medical attention.
The Trevor Project is another crisis resource that specializes in working with the LGBTQ+ community. They can be reached by calling 1-866-488-7386, texting ‘Start’ to 678-678, or visiting their website at https://www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/.
You can also visit https://988lifeline.org/ where you can access specific resources for: Individuals with Neurodivergence, Black Mental Health, Maternal Mental Health, Youth, Disaster Survivors, Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, Veterans, Loss Survivors, LGBTQ+, Attempt Survivors, Deaf/Hard of Hearing/Hearing Loss, and Help in Spanish. Young adults may find Active Minds to be helpful as it is geared toward supporting the mental health of high school and college students.
Above all else, take care of you first. Take breaks, practice self-care as you are able, check in on people you care about, set boundaries, and ask for help if you need it. Here is to a more mentally well holiday season!