Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Depression during the Holidays: Helping Family Members

 By Sarah Evans

If your family is as far-flung as mine, the holiday season may be one of the few times of the year you’ll see some relatives. In my family’s holiday pictures, the kids usually look completely different from one year to the next! Maybe one of your relatives has changed too and unfortunately, may be struggling with a mental health issue.

Possible signs may include a lower than normal mood, a lack of interest in family activities (withdrawal), crying spells or other symptoms of depression.

As someone who struggles with anxiety, having my family’s support is critical. Before I was first diagnosed, I was very defensive about my symptoms, and would brush off people’s concerns (with some serious teenage attitude). Here is some advice I can share about helping someone you think may be in distress. 

What You Can Do

  • Voice your concerns to another trusted relative. This person may have insight and suggestions about what your relative is experiencing. Remember, the goal isn’t to gossip –it’s to work together to help.
  • Talk to your relative. Seek out a quiet, private space. Ask how things are going in their life. If needed, you can prompt, “You seem a little sad or frustrated. Do you feel that way?” Don’t be judgmental or minimize issues.
  • Be ready to recommend resources. Your relative may know that something is “off,” but they may not know how to find help. Point them to the NAMI website: www.nami.org for general information and program resources.
  • If your relative agrees, offer to make an appointment for them with a local mental health care provider. If you can, offer to go with them to the first appointment – for moral support. Having a familiar face in the waiting room also can make a doctor’s visit much less intimidating.
  • As part of your conversation, you may want to mention seeing NAMI’s “You Are Not Alone” campaign which highlights famous historical leaders who have experienced mental health challenges, such as Abraham Lincoln. Your relative is not alone and should not feel ashamed.
  • Follow up! Get in touch with your relative after the holiday. Ask them how they are doing. If you discussed any steps for evaluation and treatment plans, ask if they have taken them. Be encouraging and supportive.

Stay Connected

Noticing a change in a family member can be uncomfortable. You may not know how to help or feel that it’s “not your place” to raise your concern with them, especially if it’s someone you don’t see very often. However, with respectful, empowering communication, you will be helping more than you think.

Sometimes, a relative who is struggling will ignore questions, or will become angry. Remember, the only thing you can do is to let someone know that you care, that you are there for them and that you support them.

I am so grateful that I have family members who offer consistent, patient support. I hope someone reading this will be able to offer such support to someone in their life this holiday season.

Sarah Evans is a M.P.H. candidate at the School of Public Health & Health Services at George Washington University.


Anonymous said...

Nice job, Sarah. Your comment about physical changes noted in pictures struck me. I've noticed over the years that often students struggle greatly with physical appearance and performance in school during adolescent years. I think many suffer anxiety undiagnosed. Hopefully, these and others like them will have a loving family member realize they need some help. Merry Christmas!

Anonymous said...

I might add that it is important not to sound patronizing while trying to give support. I personally can pick up on that myself when I am in my more sensitive moods.

Alexis Cave said...

Many suffer from depression and the repercussions of depressions are debilitating. The stresses of the holiday effect everyone and can bring upon depression especially in those previously affected by this debilitating disease. Loved ones need to remember what the holidays are truly about and help loved ones if possible. It takes just moments to listen and seconds to help.

Anonymous said...

If you are a youth in the Austin or San Antonio Area I might suggest Alamoareayouth.org or in the Houston, TX area Houstonffcmh.org (Houston Federation of Families for Children's Mental Health). On a national level you can look on youthmovenational.org. These organizations will help to find activities for your young family members to help keep them active with youth going through similar situations during the holiday season.

Tejwinder said...

What an insightful article. You guys are amazing, i like the way you describe every single point so carefully. This can help people and i must come again and again to read such an informational articles.

Taylor Mitchell said...

Depression is definitely a serious malady all year round (not just during the holidays). It's pretty much a difficult condition to handle, too, so communication is clearly a vital aspect of the healing process.