With the holidays upon us, it’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season: There are meals to cook, gifts to find, social gatherings to attend and family obligations to meet. Almost everyone experiences additional stress during the holidays, which is why it’s important to also take a minute to mentally “check in” with yourself and with loved ones. Checking in with yourself can help you identify trouble spots, stressors and areas where you can slow down. Checking in with loved ones can provide insight into how they’re doing and might put you in a position to give them the one gift they need most: the gift of listening.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), each year one in five adults in the U.S. — approximately 43.7 million people — experiences a mental illness such as depression or anxiety, and more than 22 million Americans 12 or older need treatment for a drug or alcohol problem.
Chances are good that you know someone dealing with such an issue, and you might have wondered what to say — or what not to say — to see how they’re doing during this stressful time of year. Maybe you have noticed that certain friends, colleagues or family members are not acting like their usual selves. Perhaps they’ve been quieter than usual, or experienced a difficult life change such as an injury or illness, job loss or challenging family situation. Maybe someone has repeatedly told you they’re “fine,” but your instincts are telling you otherwise.
The first and most important step in helping people dealing with a mental health or substance use challenge is offering to listen. Don’t feel as if you need to solve their problems or give advice. Just offer to listen with an open mind and no judgment. Some other advice for starting the conversation:
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▪ Show that you’re concerned in a way that isn’t confrontational or judgmental. Let them know you care about them and want to check in because you’re concerned about recent changes you’ve noticed in their mood or behavior.
▪ Keep questions simple. Ask how they’re doing, what they’re feeling and how you can provide support.
▪ Offer reassurance and hope. Let them know that they’re not alone and that you’re there to support them in actively seeking help to feel better.
▪ Avoid phrases that could sound dismissive or accusatory. Although you might not understand what they are feeling, it’s important to express your unwavering support.
▪ Suggest reaching out to a local recovery support resource. Ask if they’ve thought about seeking support from a professional trained to help with these types of issues. Consider having some suggestions ready to share, or offer to research local resources together.
▪ After your initial conversation, stay engaged with the person and check in regularly. Having consistent support from family and friends can make a huge difference in people’s well-being.
Amid the holiday rush, it’s easy to dash from one thing to the next — even when your gut is telling you to spend some extra time with a friend or loved one who might be struggling. As you enjoy the fun and festivities of the season, remember that this time of year is also about spending quality time with the people you care about — especially those who might need a little extra support.
Visit www.Optum.com/Recovery for more information and links to find recovery support resources near you.
Dennis J. Woody is a licensed psychologist and clinical director at Optum Idaho.