What not to say to someone suffering from a mental illness during Christmas time

Here is how to differentiate between appropriate and inappropriate things to say to someone suffering from mental illnesses

by Aradhita Saraf

The fact that most of the day is shrouded in darkness – doesn’t help those battling with mental illnesses. What makes it worse is meeting several family and friends who do not understand the prevalence and effects of suffering from mental illnesses. The Mighty mental health community has taken the pains of putting together 10 questions heard most frequently by those mental illness warriors and how and why they should not be repeated.

First and foremost it is the realization that “clinical depression” and the emotional uproar that comes with mental illnesses cannot be equated to daily mood swings that occur in people’s lives due to the happenings of life.

While it can be hard to recognize who might be clinically depressed and who might just be recovering from a bad break up – it is most important to do so. Depression not only looks different in individual people it can also look different in the same person.

Here are some questions and statements that definitely should not be asked to your loved one be it – friend or family – when they don’t look “up to it.” Here are also some of the ways in which they would potentially respond if (God forbid) they are suffering from a mental illness.
1. ‘How can you be sad around the holidays?’

The holidays might be the reason behind why they are so upset. Seasonal depression only aggravates mental trauma. It is scientifically proven that exposure to light can liven up and uplift moods. Here are some responses to watch out for in case the person you ask the question to is clinically depressed

You can help the situation by lighting up the room you are in with candles, lamps, wall lights and table lights. Remember the brighter the room, the better the chances of them feeling better.

“Because I have depression, this time of year reminds me that I can’t tap into certain emotions like others can. The whole ‘warmth, joy and cheer’ thing sounds like something other people must feel, but not me because I still live in the same gray, dull existence. Sometimes, it’s as if holiday decorations are mocking me, making me hyperaware that I am missing something everyone has.” — Kendra A.

“I want to be happy like everyone else is, but I can’t just turn my brain off.”— Miranda M.

“Depression is real and so is seasonal depression. My heart hurts all the time, but during the holidays it’s even worse.” — Emily H.
2. ‘Stop being so antisocial’

The holidays might equate to a social time with family and friends with you – involving dancing, drinks, singing, catching up and unwrapping gifts. For those suffering from mental illnesses crowds and too much social interaction all together can be overwhelming. Leaving them with the option of enjoying alone time as well joining in the festivities can ease them into a comfortable space.

“There is nothing wrong with needing a few minutes of alone time.” — Amanda K.

“They just don’t understand the extent of what my mind goes through when in a group of people or when leaving my comfort area. Especially during the holidays. Being that it’s the holidays, I feel forced to partake in the festivities while I feel like I’m dying inside and can’t tell anyone because I’m frequently judged.” — Glendaliz G.

3. ‘Life is too short to be sad’

Life might seem short for you – but for those suffering from mental illnesses, each day can present itself like a battle waiting to be fought. They might not understand your statement at all and might wonder what you even mean by that. Instead of offering that advice, why not put up an understanding front that acknowledges their discomforts and pain and reach out a helping hand – saying you’d be willing to help in any way you can.

“That goes for any time of the year. It’s not about being sad. It’s about having no control of how your brain functions. It’s living in constant torment.” — Tanya C.
4. ‘Come on, you can have one drink’

A drink is not the solution to every problem for everyone. Alcohol is essentially a depressant so offering a drink to someone suffering from a mental illness is not the best idea. Instead, present them with a variety of drinks alcoholic as well non-alcoholic beverages like hot chocolate. Not offering alcohol to them might make them feel singled out – which is also not the best idea.

“Maybe I can’t drink due to my meds or my mental health issues? Just ask me what I’d like instead.” — Jenny B. 
5. ‘But it’s the most wonderful time of the year!’

Just because it is December and white doesn’t mean it’s the most “wonderful” time of the year. Give them a reason to believe it’s wonderful by doing things for them and acting like it. Convince them that it indeed is the most wonderful time of the year by showing them how and why.

“Most people that know me know my mother died two days before Halloween and my dad 10 days before Christmas two years apart. I lost both of them by the time I was 20… but you don’t get why the holidays always are when my most severe depression can hit?” — Missy L. 

“My depression takes no breaks. Please don’t act like I can just push it away for a day or two so you can be happy.” — Alysha P. 

“Like yeah, I’m aware, but it’s not a cure for my mental health disorder.” — Amy W.
6. ‘You’re not going to see your family? But family is everything’

Sometimes family is the reason behind your mental disorder – and taking the existence of an existing happy family is not the right thing to do. Instead, offering to be like family to them, inviting them to your own family gathering and making sure that they don’t feel the need of a family could uplift their spirits.

“Not all families create a sense of happiness or safety. For some people being in contact with their family is the worst thing for them. People need to understand and respect that.” — Kacey K.

7. ‘You’re such a Grinch’

Just because you cannot relate to them does not mean they are “bad.” There are no blacks and whites – there are shades of grey that lie in between – and assuming that they’re on the darker side of the scale just because they’re not as enthusiastic about wearing ugly sweaters, getting drunk and singing Christmas carols is awfully wrong. Make them feel good instead by joining in whatever they might be doing – be it reading quietly with a cup of hot coca.

“It is very destructive to call people ‘negative,’ and name calling is a horrible way to treat people, such as calling people a ‘Grinch’ or a ‘Scrooge.’ — Kirrie S.

“The holidays have never been my favorite time of the year, but after the traumatic passing of my father last year the whole season has left me feeling like I want to scream. While a lot of people don’t get it, I am lucky enough to know a few that do.” — Emilie M.
8. ‘Are you going to eat all of that?’

Food can make everyone feel better- scientifically and otherwise and those fighting mental disorder battles need to hang on to anything and everything that can make them happy – and food can be the healthiest way to temporary satisfaction. Join them in the meal and help them feel better about the food that they might be eating.

“Holidays are really hard as a recovering anorexic. I am trying to convince myself to let myself enjoy all of the holiday food and the social aspect of eating together, and having anyone point out the amount of food on my plate sends me into a silent panic.” — Marie A.

“Lots of people shame themselves about how much/what they eat during the holidays and the subsequent diets they will go on afterward, which can be triggering being in recovery from an eating disorder.” — Sam A. 
9. ‘You have nothing to be so sad about’

Everyone has something to be unsatisfied about and not everyone shares every detail about their life.

So making that statement is wrong on many levels and in fact should not be said at all. Know that if you believe that they have nothing to be sad about – then you just don’t know enough about them. So, offering a ear to hear and shoulder to cry on will make them feel like it is normal to be upset and good about having support.

“I know that. That’s why guilt has such a huge place in my depression. I just wished they said nothing about it and acted like I’m fine for once, not like I’m a porcelain doll about to break.” — Viviane A

“I’m well aware I have things to be thankful for, that also makes me feel worse because I then feel guilty for feeling like I do. Yeah, most aren’t a major fan of the holidays, but when you see other people with their families and you would give anything to have just one family holiday of your own again, it tends to sting even more.” — Liz K

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