Thoughtful Gifts to Give a Loved One Living With Mental Illness


As a therapist, I sit with intimate pain and anguish all day. I do my best to help the people who feel disconnected, who feel fearful and uncertain, who feel, at times, like society has completely rejected them.

With that said, the holidays can be rough. For someone struggling with mental illness, holidays can evoke intense feelings of sadness, loneliness and insecurity.

If you have a loved one struggling with a mental illness, a thoughtful gift can be a great way to express your compassion and gratitude for your relationship.

Quality Time

It may sound cliche, but spending time together may mean more than anything that comes inside a wrapped package.

Mental illness can make it difficult to have happy and sustainable relationships. Spending time together is a wonderful way to show just how much you prioritize you and your loved one’s connection.

Consider these ideas:
— Plan out a special dinner at your loved one’s favorite restaurant. Consider planning a picnic or at home dinner too!
— Coordinate a weekend getaway to their favorite place — a cabin in the woods, hotel stay at a resort or even a cruise! (Staycations work just as well!)
— Enroll in a new class together. Taking time to consider their likes and hobbies can express your interest! (Think cooking, spin, art — it doesn’t matter!)
— Purchase tickets to an exciting event, like a their favorite artist’s concert, a musical/play or a sporting event.

If you’re navigating the holidays on a tight budget, remember that creativity can trump expenses. I once worked with an impoverished client who wanted to give her husband a lasting memory for their first anniversary. She planned out a scavenger hunt that led to the location of their first date. The total cost? Less than 10 dollars.

Gifts That Promote Self-Care

Self-care refers to the deliberate choices we make to take care of our physical, mental and spiritual selves. However, when someone struggles with mental illness management, their self-care may decline.

This deterioration can manifest in either physical symptoms (lack of hygiene, eating regularly or sleeping) or behavioral symptoms (isolating, engaging in compulsive behaviors, thinking irrationally).

While nobody can make someone else practice self-care, a thoughtful gift oriented towards well-being shows your compassion and kindness.

Consider these ideas:
— Spa basket with special lotions, oils, and candles with relaxing or invigorating scents and fragrances.
— Self-reflective journal with a personalized pen. Consider adding some positive and personal notes yourself!
— A really cozy blanket and a good book!
— Adult coloring books or art supplies to support their creative side.
— Gift card to a favorite cafe or coffeehouse
— Certificate for a massage or beauty treatment, maybe even plan this day!

Something Personal and/or Handmade

We all want to feel special, connected and loved. However, those struggling with mental illnesses often experience discomfort regarding their self-esteem and interpersonal relationships. They often feel like they are not worthy of love and attention.

Thus, the holidays can be quite the uncomfortable paradox: it is a time devoted to closeness and family, and yet, it often represents a profound source of tremendous stress and anxiety.

As a loved one, providing something personal or handmade expresses the notion, you absolutely matter and I care about you, and these two messages can be incredibly powerful!

Consider these ideas:
— A detailed, handwritten note or card expressing your gratitude to your loved one
— Special, personalized framed photo of you and your loved one.
— Handmade scarf, blanket or sweater
— Homemade baked goods or even a meal!

I remember when one of my clients struggling with depression gushed about receiving the best gift ever. What was it? Her best friend gifted her a blank journal scattered with post-it notes full of memories, inside jokes and reasons why she was grateful for their friendship. It was a small gesture that evoked enormous, positive feelings!

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Thinkstock photo via RuthBlack


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