Representatives from the local affiliate of the National Alliance for Mental Illness are reminding those who struggle with mental illness during the holidays that they’re not alone.
“Expectations in general make up a lot of the stressors,” said Sandra Sorensen, Executive Director of NAMI Finger Lakes. “Expectations to buy gifts, to go shopping in all of these busy places where there’s lots of people, that’s a big stressor, and can be exacerbated in people experiencing symptoms from mental health illnesses.”
Sorensen said 64% of people that have a mental health condition experience worsening symptoms during the holidays.
“I think a lot of that is attributed to stress and loneliness,” Sorensen said. “I think a lot of it has to do with the expectations of the holidays, whether you celebrate just Thanksgiving or Hanukkah or Christmas, there’s a lot of tradition that’s steeped around the holidays and your family. There’s a lot of pressure to perform and it’s really hard for people that have mental health conditions.”
If you’re not feeling up to the holiday spirit, Sorensen said it’s important to communicate it. “It’s important to advocate for yourself,” she added. “You’re gonna make people disappointed, potentially. But it’s better to have that conversation than to fake it and have it not go well because then nobody’s happy.”
If you’re living with someone who has mental health issues, ask them what they want to do for the holidays. Whether it’s staying at home and watching movies or hosting a family gathering, communication is key.
“Saying no is important,” she added. “Sometimes you don’t have a lot of control, but you can go for a walk, excuse yourself, or leave early.”
Other tips, according to NAMI California, include avoiding alcohol and drugs, getting enough sleep, setting boundaries, exercising, writing a gratitude list, and accepting your needs.
Sorensen said NAMI Finger Lakes represents Tompkins and Courtland Counties. There is a NAMI Cayuga County, while other counties are absorbed by NAMI Rochester and Syracuse. Click here to find out what resources are available in your area.
Rebecca is a veteran multimedia journalist serving as one of our core reporters in the Finger Lakes region. She is responsible for telling stories that matter to every day Upstate New Yorkers. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].