Christmas with Mental Illness

By T. Jaden Ozwell

Thanksgiving and Christmas bring a lot of epithets into the public square. Snowflakes and nativities call out "Joy! Hope! Peace!" while songs cheerily claim "it's the most wonderful time of the year." But happiness and peace are not the season's main companions for many. While other groups certainly struggle during the holidays, I'd like to talk about those who experience mental illness in the form of mood disorders — because I'm right there with them.

Although the CDC has disproved the myth that the USA's suicide rate is highest in December, the fact remains that other concerns such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse often worsen during this time of year. Mental health is not merely measured in how many people die. Counselors and other mental health professionals almost universally find it necessary to be especially attentive to their clients as Christmas approaches.

The effect of Christmas on those with mood disorders or addictions is usually a culmination of many factors. Being around family brings up many memories, whether of the family itself or of other things in childhood, and of course for others the lack of family connections because of abuse, estrangement, or death becomes most obvious at Christmas. Sometimes, the simple fact that so many people love Christmas is difficult to handle. When I was most depressed, I found that being around very happy people was actually more depressing, because it showed me the disparity between myself and "normal" most starkly. And of course all the parties, church events, and packed stores are difficult for those with anxiety disorders. Any or all of these factors affect all types of substance abusers, with deaths from alcohol poisoning being especially prevalent at Christmas.

All of this is to say that if you or someone you care about find the holidays cause a lowered mood rather than the joy Christmas decorations proclaim, it is a common issue and should never be taken personally. Those struggling are not failing to grasp the gift that is Jesus; they are interacting with a constellation of other realities that will exacerbate whatever symptomology they experience. So please, make room for us to take care of ourselves during this season. Understanding means more than any Christmas gift.

Image Credit: Ani-Bee; "Homesick"; Creative Commons

TagsCelebrating-Holidays  | Christian-Life  | Depression  | Personal-Relationships

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Published on 12-7-15