Almost 65% of people have been hearing conversations about mental health among family and friends since the Green Ribbon 2016 (up from 62% in 2015), however Christmas can be a tough time for people experiencing mental health difficulties. Many mental health services are closed for the festive season, and spending extra time at home can be stressful for some, especially if one finds it difficult to talk about their mental health with family and friends. Not being able to talk to someone can make the experience of being unwell much harder, even more so at this time of year when Christmas hype can take over.
Speaking about the challenges of Christmas on her mental health, See Change Ambassador Orla Meade says ‘I used to always really look forward to Christmas. I would be thinking about it for weeks, looking forward to being with family and I would imagine what it was going to be like.What I imagined in my head, was unfortunately not always the reality and building it up so much, I was putting pressure on myself to enjoy it and be in good form”.
Feeling the need to try and hide her depression from family was extremely hard, “I would often feel really lonely, even when I was surrounded by people who loved me the most. Being around people who knew me well, when I was trying to hide how I was really feeling, was so difficult and exhausting. It’s really hard to be experiencing a bad bout of depression during Christmas when everyone is “supposed” to be happy”.
Talking about his mental health at Christmas, Rick Rossiter, a See Change Ambassador says, “Christmas used to be a time for fond memories… before my mental health and all the baggage that followed with it nearly consumed me and made this time of the year almost dreadful. Between money, family commitments and socialising it was like swimming in the ocean but forgetting how to swim”.
Opening up to family and friends about mental health issues can be a problem for many at any time of the year. “Christmas time is a different tradition for everyone. But I think one all Irish people share is family time. We see on the TVs, hear it on the radio, see it in stores and magazines – Christmas is for family time. But, how does one enjoy family time when there’s demons running about in your mind?”
Adam continues, “I remember last year breaking down on Christmas day, for the first time ever, because everything was just so overwhelming and I felt the pressure hit me all at once.”
Worries about being viewed differently by the people closest to oneself often overshadow the need for support with people choosing to stay silent as a result. According to See Change’s Attitudes Towards Mental Health survey, 28% said they would delay seeking treatment for fear of someone else knowing about their mental health difficulty. Stigma can be deeply hurtful and isolating – especially when experienced in one’s own social circle -and is one of the most significant problems encountered by people with mental health difficulties.
Being able to talk about mental health has had a positive effect on Rick, Adam and Orla.
“Times have changed due to the openness I have with my mental health and self-assurances in my own abilities, I take Christmas as I do with most days, staying in the moment and taking things at an even pace and allow humour and laughter into my life and with those around me”, says Rick.
Orla adds, “When I was eventually able to really openly talk to my family and friends about how I was feeling, it really made a difference. Once you talk about it you do feel better and knowing that you have that support there and you can talk about it, makes it that bit easier to talk to someone when you really need to”.
Speaking about his wellness tools during Christmas, Rick says “More often than not the pressures in our lives are the ones we place on ourselves, so be kind to yourself, find your “me time” and enjoy life in the present”.
Happy that she is in a better place than previous years, Orla will be thinking of people who may be having difficulties with their mental health.
“Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but for many it can be a really hard time and this year, as I’m in a very good place, I’m going to be thinking about those who are feeling low and hope they can find the strength to talk to someone so they can try and make their Christmas that little bit easier” she says.
Remember this Christmas, you don’t need to be an expert to talk about mental health.