“How can I help family and friends living with depression during the holidays?”

November 8, 2022 in Family Caregiving  •  By Miles Varn, MD
depression during the holidays

If someone you care about is among the 10% of Americans living with depression, the holidays can become more complicated to navigate. Holidays can be more emotionally difficult and draining for people with depression and other mental health conditions. Parties, family dinners, and celebrations can add to stress, increasing depression symptoms and making it harder to cope.

There are several ways you can support your family and friends living with depression during the holiday season, helping them decrease stress levels and manage symptoms. Start by reaching out and asking how they’re coping and if there are any specific things that you can do to help. It can be difficult to start a conversation about mental health, but your loved one will most likely appreciate the opportunity to talk and share their feelings and concerns. If they don’t want to talk now, step back and try again later, letting them know you’re available when they want support.

Other strategies for supporting family and friends with depression and other mental health conditions during the holidays include:

  • Stay in touch. People living with depression may withdraw from family and friends. It can be helpful to keep the lines of communication open so they know that, even if they’re not ready to talk or spend time together right now, there are people who are available when they need them. Call, video chat, or text a few times a week with a short message that lets them know you’re thinking about them and are there when they need support. A card or letter is another way to stay in touch and it might be especially welcome for older relatives and friends who don’t text or email.
  • Let them say “No thanks.” While getting together with family and friends might boost your mood, that might not be the case for people with depression. Let them opt-out of any gatherings or events they’re not feeling up to. You can also suggest a one-on-one alternative, which might be less overwhelming, like you coming to visit to share a cup of tea and some holiday treats or play their favorite board game.
  • Take things off their to-do list. Offer to lend a hand with tasks they might not have the emotional or physical energy to deal with right now. You could do their grocery shopping, pick up prescriptions, provide a ride to their therapy appointment, or do their housecleaning or laundry. Helping out in this way can lower their stress levels and help make sure they have the things they need to be as healthy as possible.
  • Make time to listen. The holidays can be over-busy. Make time to listen if your loved one wants to talk. And don’t try to “fix” the issues they’re talking about. You’re there to listen without judgement. Feeling heard and understood can help return some of the feeling of empowerment that depression often drains away.
  • Help them create a depression toolkit. Depression can make it harder to think clearly and make decisions. Help your friend or family member create a toolkit or coping sheet where they list easy-to-do activities they enjoy that may help improve their mood. If they’re having trouble getting started on the list, share things you enjoy, whether that’s listening to music, taking a bath, or doing yoga stretches, to help spark ideas.
  • Do a stress relieving activity together. Getting outside for walk, doing a puzzle, and doing a hobby or art project together can help decrease stress and provide a chance for companionship.

While supporting a family member or friend during the holidays, remember to also take care of yourself. Enlist the help of others who can also help your loved one and use your downtime to do something you enjoy like exercise, meditation, or going to a movie with a friend.