The Trouble with the Holidays for Those with Mental Illness

December 13, 2012 Natasha Tracy

Why are the holidays so hard for a person with a mental illness? How can you help? Read tips on helping someone with a mental illness through the holidays.

There are some truly wonderful people out there who are loved ones of people with mental illnesses. These people want to help their loved ones with mental illnesses and many of them read this blog in an effort to understand what it’s like to have a mental illness and how they can help.

It’s a beautiful thing.

So if you’re the loved one of a person with a mental illness, here are some things you might want to think about during the holidays.

The Trouble with the Holidays

The trouble with the holidays is not the holidays themselves, per se, it’s more everything that surrounds the holidays. And even if someone loves family and everything that comes as part of the holidays, it’s still quite possible that holidays can cause a switch in mood just because of the change in routine. And stress is always present at this time of year with party-planning, party-attending, gift-giving and so on.

How to Reduce the Trouble with the Holidays

The first thing that loved ones need to do is to respect the coping mechanisms the person with the mental illness has developed all year long. This means, respect their routine. Respect their need for space. Respect that they don’t drink. Respect that they need to exercise and eat and sleep on schedule. And so on. It’s tempting to say to the person, “oh why can’t you just loosen up for the holidays?” but it’s exactly that attitude that will get them into trouble. It’s critical that you support them in their healthy decisions because it’s hard enough to make healthy choices already without the support of the people who love you.

You can also help by creating less stressful environments. While everyone wants the “picture perfect” holiday, no one ever gets it, so maybe it’s time to consider striving for “good enough.” For example, don’t invite 12 people to Christmas dinner if it means that all everyone will do is stress about cooking. Maybe you could pair it down to a manageable number and reduce the stress in the household.

Try focussing on something that doesn’t require money. Many people with mental illness don’t have a lot of money because they are too sick to work full-time and this might make them feel like they can’t participate in the holidays fully. If this is the case, maybe don’t focus on big gifts for each other and instead create new traditions like a spending limit or making gifts. Make the major holiday events no-money-needed.

If the person with the mental illness is too sick to attend holiday events, try to be OK with it. Remember that their non-attendance isn’t about you; it’s about an illness they can’t control. Tell them that it’s OK, you love them and will see them soon.

Helping Out Overall

In all, try to help create a holiday that both you and the person with the mental illness can live with. Accept imperfection. Learn to listen to what the person with the mental illness needs and wants and respect it. Actively seek out their opinion and try to compromise.

Because no one wants to be sick during the holidays and people sure the heck don’t want to be sick because of the holidays either.

You can find Natasha Tracy on Facebook or GooglePlus or @Natasha_Tracy on Twitter.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2012, December 13). The Trouble with the Holidays for Those with Mental Illness, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, March 3 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleTwitter, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

December, 25 2012 at 7:13 pm

I see so many enjoying their families and doing all the things that people do at the holidays and I can only think about t hose who are homeless or hungry or neglected...and so many of us, the ones who are struggling with this disease process. It leaves us isolated, broken families, broken relationships, broken careers. I am unbelievably sad tonight. Another day where no one really notices me or even notices if I am around. They are so used to my living in my bedroom, they just take it for granted. I hope and pray that others out there who are struggling today find some comfort and know you are not alone.
As always, thank you Natasha for all the you do and say for us.

Natasha Tracy
December, 21 2012 at 7:23 am

Thanks Natalie. Great to see you around :)
- Natasha

natalie jeanne champagne
December, 21 2012 at 7:10 am

I tend to isolate during holidays. My family is pretty used to me "not showing up". Great post, Natasha.

December, 14 2012 at 7:57 pm

This Christmas I will be flying for twenty hours and arriving in Australia about the same time as Santa Claus, about 2am, with a four hour time lag. There are no school age kids so we will be able to delay Christmas morning a little so I can sleep, then I will have a glass of champagne for breakfast. It will just be the immediate family and I miss them so much!
There are so many inherent risks to me in this schedule. My inlaws here will be helping me to prepare for the journey, from shopping to packing to eating to sleeping, to getting me on the plane. Someone will pick me up on arrival and take me to my warm soft bed. I don't have to do anything or organise anything, just enjoy. I will take a week off before starting to look for work or housing or anything like that.
What do I want for Christmas? My family safe and sound.

December, 13 2012 at 6:27 pm

UUgh. I wish for once I didn't have to deal with all the people coming this year. But if I even think about not doing all that has been planned or even mess up something the MIL has planned, well she takes it personally and makes her snides comments. Top those comments with the fact I can't stand the witch to begin with and it won't be a recipe for fun.
I have also come to realize that my husband, who says he takes his vows seriously, has decided that the marriage breakdown is due to me and my Bipolar. He said he has done nothing of his own accord to cause any strife and that he will take responsibility for how he reacted to the things I did. Wow.
Yeah, I don't see any support from this man this holiday. It has been six days that we have been fighting and not communicating, and yes, the not wanting to talk to him is my choice, but really, who in their right mind would want to talk to someone who says I have single handedly ruined the family? This man who says he takes his vows seriously has done nothing but look up on the internet things like, "can a marriage recover with a spouse who has Bipolar." He has been asking me everyday if I even know what I am doing--his polite way of asking me if I am in reality. He has been saying I am violant, abusive, out of control. Mind you, the last manic episode I had was Nov 10 this year.
I have endured his verbal abuse and his controlling abuse (I have asked and said many times to leave me alone and his response is that he will leave me alone when its appropriate and then he will follow me and stand in my way of leaving the room). I am lucky that I have had my mother to call and scream at about this man just so I don't loose it in front of him or my kids ( I promised my 3 year old i would do my best not to yell anymore and I intend to do whatever i have to to keep that promise.)
I guess I am just not looking forward to this holiday and I know that I am going to struggle to keep it together and not have an episode and it will be twice as hard for me as I have to deal with this crap and I have no friends or family near, my friends and family live over two hours away or out of state.
So, wish me luck and I hope others will be in a much better place and have an enjoyable Christmas and New Year.

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