When it comes to Christmas, we’re constantly reminded that it’s ‘the most wonderful time of the year’. It’s the time where we’re expected to dance to cheesy songs, and smile as we open presents from loved ones. We’re meant to chuckle at cracker jokes, and happily knock back glasses of bubbly whilst devouring mountains of roast potatoes.
Now, don’t get me wrong: for most people, Christmas genuinely is an exciting time of the year, filled with joy and happiness. However, this isn’t the case for everyone. For some people, Christmas can be incredibly hard. The reasons people struggle with it varies – it may be a time linked to bad memories, or it could be difficult because of loneliness, or ill health.
Personally, I’m finding the festive period difficult because of depression. Whilst depression is an illness that affects people in different ways, for me, it’s linked to days spent in bed, unable to move, days where I don’t shower or eat properly, and days where I sit around loathing myself, unable to get my brain to ‘shut up’ no matter how hard I try. Depression is hard all year round, but I find coping with it particularly challenging at this time of year. That’s because, at Christmas time, others expect you to be happy. You’re expected to be sociable, and willing to celebrate. Yet, when you have depression, these expectations can seem impossible to meet.
I know that I’m not alone when it comes to feeling like this. Studies show that Christmas can be particularly hard for people with mental health difficulties. For instance, a poll by Samaritans found that around half of people feel pressure to hide how they’re really feeling over the Christmas period, and instead put on a ‘brave face’ to please others. This needs to change. If people feel unable to express how they’re truly feeling, this may lead to the further deterioration of their mental health. So, if you know a friend is struggling with their mental health this Christmas, please help them as much as you can.
Firstly, avoid criticising them. Having depression doesn’t make someone a ‘Grinch’, or a ‘party pooper’. Implying that they are may seem like a joke, or a bit of friendly banter. However, it could be genuinely hurtful to your friend. For many people with depression, their minds are filled with constant negative thoughts about their personality, their actions, and their inability to complete ‘basic’ tasks. Therefore, the last thing a depressed person needs, is for someone else to criticise them, or to ‘jokingly’ call them names. Instead of saying something that could be insulting to your friend, you could tell them that you’re proud of them, and that you value their friendship. Spending a few minutes complimenting your pal may seem small to you, but chances are, it’ll mean the world to them.
Secondly, be there for your friend. It can be hard supporting another person when all you want to do is eat, drink, and be merry, so I’m not suggesting that you put your entire Christmas plans on hold to look after your friend. However, what I do suggest is spending a few minutes each day checking up on them. Dropping them a message asking how they’re doing, or going to see them for an hour or two, can help them no end. You don’t have to spend every minute of every day with them to be there for them. Just knowing that you’re thinking of them, and that you’re about if they need you, will likely help them a lot.
Whilst your support is invaluable, it may also be worth sending your friend helpline numbers that are available throughout the Christmas period. In particular, it’s worth letting them know about helplines that are open on Christmas Day itself, as several are closed. By letting them know about the helplines that are available, it may mean they feel less alone. Samaritans and SANE are both open all year round, including Christmas Day. Helplines aimed at specific groups of people that are open every day throughout the festive period include CALM (specifically for men), Switchboard (specifically for LGBT+ people), and The Silver Line (specifically for elderly people). Giving numbers such as these to your friend could seriously help them. It could mean that they don’t feel isolated, knowing that there is external support available if they need it.
By doing these things, you may make the world of difference to your friend this Christmas. Your help and support may not seem like much but, to a person with depression, it’ll likely be one of the best gifts they receive this Christmas.