Christmas is a magical time for many, full of celebration, eating, drinking and time spent with family and friends, but for those that struggle with a mental health condition, the festive period can often be stressful and lonely.
Financial pressures, increased family tension, overindulgence with food and alcohol, and the pressure to socialise are all likely to create added strain during the festive season.
A study by the University College London (UCL) found that the prevalence of depression and anxiety rose sharply last December in the UK, especially among young adults.1
Discussing the common issues people with mental health difficulties face at this time of year, Gemma Hartnoll-Smith, Wellbeing Officer at Ludlow Street Healthcare, said: “For many, the anticipation of Christmas and the reality can be very different.
“These mixed feelings can affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Many will feel overwhelmed by sadness, shame, or anxiety, whilst others may feel an absence of emotion. For those with more severe mental health issues, some may talk about hearing voices or seeing things, while others may feel as though things are ‘unreal’ around them.
“Managing these emotions can be difficult, and unsafe behaviours may increase. Some people may choose to avoid this time of year and the feelings it brings, maybe by sleeping more, avoiding family, becoming irritable, over-using prescribed or unprescribed medication, or drinking more alcohol.”
On minimising distress, Gemma said: “The most important thing someone with mental health issues can do in the lead up to Christmas is plan ahead. By identifying potential triggers and noting down ideas on strategies to cope with the emotions these stressors may cause, they are less likely to present as much of a problem.
“Finding activities to keep yourself distracted during the festive period can also be very helpful, whether it be spending time with friends who don’t celebrate Christmas or throwing yourself into a hobby.”
Gemma says that it’s equally important for families to actively involve themselves in minimising stress for loved ones with mental health issues: “The tendency can be for families to avoid talking about Christmas plans to avoid causing upset, but in reality, this can make the person feel more excluded and less prepared for what is to come. Openly talking about plans well in advance and treating them as the ‘experts about their own mental health’ is often the best approach.”
Set up in 2005 by healthcare specialists, Ludlow Street Healthcare provides transition-focused healthcare and bespoke step-down services, including specialist assessment, treatment, rehabilitation, and education, throughout Wales and the south west of England. The organisation has developed a reputation for its person-centred approach, community-focused settings and specialist staff.
Since its inception, Ludlow Street Healthcare has supported and cared for over 800 people. For over a decade, it has worked in partnership with the NHS, developing services and investing in the necessary health infrastructure and staff training, to support patients on their journey to recovery and a more independent and fulfilling life, through step-down to community living – improving social integration and inclusion.