It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
May your heart be filled with joy!
While the holiday season is a beautiful time of year for many people, millions of others are battling depression, and feeling an extra sting this season as the stigma exists they should simply be cheery and choose joy.
Twenty-one percent of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020, representing 52.9 million people and 1 in 5 adults. In 2020, more than 12 million U.S. adults had serious thoughts of suicide (NAMI, 2020). Chances are you have a family member or friend living with depression right now. You may be vaguely familiar with depression symptoms but aren’t sure how to support your loved one, especially during the holiday season.
The truth is that if your loved one is truly suffering, the holiday season is no exception. No amount of fresh pine scent, sugar cookies, or Christmas carols can magically lift their spirit. I can tell you this though – your care and support can be the best gift they’ll receive this holiday season. I promise you that.
Speaking from personal experience, depression feels bleak, hopeless, and like a weight crushing your chest. Things you used to enjoy don’t matter anymore. It’s difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed each morning. And of course, it can take a deadly turn – causing you to think that this world is better off without you. Oftentimes, you already feel guilty for thinking so negatively and feeling like you’re bringing other people down. The ‘be joyful’ outlook and stigma only heap more guilt and shame onto those who are already depressed.
In addition to shame, many people experience Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is a type of depression that is defined by changes in mood and energy with symptoms starting in the fall and continuing through the winter months. The light changes during wintertime exacerbate symptoms of depression. It’s important to be aware and educated about depression to show up and empathize with those who need it most. Here are five ways you can support your loved one with depression during the holidays:
- Be there and listen to them. Allow them to talk, prompting them with questions that seek to understand how they feel. Let them get it all off their chest without you jumping to judgment or conclusions or assumptions. Show them that with you, there is a safe and trusting place to speak. If they aren’t open to talking yet, continue to assure them you’re there when they’re ready to talk.
- Validate how they feel. Don’t say things that are offered to ‘fix’ them or their symptoms. If you truly don’t understand what depression feels like, try to put yourself in their shoes and practice empathy as you care for them. “I’m so sorry you feel this way” is a great start. Allow them to cry when they need to get it out. Remind them how much you care about them and that your door to talk is always open. Feeling validated by you can help them feel seen, heard, and understood.
- Encourage them to do activities they enjoy. Remember it can be difficult to get out of bed each morning or go to work. Give them a little nudge to practice self-care in the form of exercise, making a healthy, home-cooked meal, or treating themself in one way or another. Offer to take them out to dinner at their favorite restaurant or to a concert. Do a seasonal activity together like hitting the slopes at a ski resort or going ice skating. Doing things that they enjoy will help them move through their difficult days of depression.
- Give a meaningful gift that helps with self-care. When it comes to gifts, think a little more simple or practical like a grocery gift card, gym membership (I just gifted this), spa treatment, yoga classes, or a one-night stay at a hotel for some rest. Material gifts are nice, but I think experiences or things that help encourage a healthy lifestyle – are even better!
- Encourage them with every small step. When they’re feeling depressed, it helps to know that they are loved and cared for and that you see positive traits in them. Continue to build them up when they have difficult days and go out of your way to make sure they start to see how great they truly are. When their depression ramps up, give them grace and continue to encourage them.
Supporting your depressed loved one through the holiday season will speak volumes about how much you care for them. Continue to show up with a hot coffee in hand or a dinner invitation. Knowing people are there for you when you’re struggling is the best gift you didn’t know to ask for.
What ideas would you add to this list?