The Mighty Logo

9 Things Not to Say to Someone With a Mental Illness During the Holidays

The most helpful emails in health
Browse our free newsletters

During the hustle and bustle of the holidays, you sometimes end up around family and friends you don’t typically see over the course of the year. And unfortunately, people you don’t see often (intentionally or not), might not know how to talk to you about living with a mental illness. This can be especially hard if you’re struggling with your mental health during the holidays, or if you’re not around your usual support system.

Most (but, surely, not all) people who say unhelpful or misguided statements about mental health probably don’t know better. To help educate friends and family about why their comments are so unhelpful, we asked our mental health community what they wished people would stop saying to them during the holidays. We also asked what they wish people would say — and their answers shine some light on what someone struggling with a mental illness might need.

1. “How can you be sad around the holidays?”

“Because I have depression, this time of year reminds me that I can’t tap into certain emotions like others can. The whole ‘warmth, joy and cheer’ thing sounds like something other people must feel, but not me because I still live in the same gray, dull existence. Sometimes, it’s as if holiday decorations are mocking me, making me hyperaware that I am missing something everyone has.” — Kendra A.

“I want to be happy like everyone else is, but I can’t just turn my brain off.” — Miranda M.

“Depression is real and so is seasonal depression. My heart hurts all the time, but during the holidays it’s even worse.” — Emily H.

What you could say instead: “It must be really difficult and lonely to feel so sad and isolated during the holidays. I’m here for you.” — submitted by Jenna H.

2. “Stop being so antisocial.”

There is nothing wrong with needing a few minutes of alone time.” — Amanda K.

“They just don’t understand the extent of what my mind goes through when in a group of people or when leaving my comfort area. Especially during the holidays. Being that it’s the holidays, I feel forced to partake in the festivities while I feel like I’m dying inside and can’t tell anyone because I’m frequently judged.” — Glendaliz G.

What you could say instead: “You’re welcome to join us but if you don’t feel up to it, I’ll check up on you in a bit.” — submitted by Christina P.

 3. “Life is too short to be sad.”

“That goes for any time of the year. It’s not about being sad. It’s about having no control of how your brain functions. It’s living in constant torment.” — Tanya C.

What you could say instead: “I’m always here for you.” — submitted by Amy W.

 4. “Come on, you can have one drink.”

 “Maybe I can’t drink due to my meds or my mental health issues? Just ask me what I’d like instead.” — Jenny B. 

What you could say instead: “I understand this is a hard time for you. If you’re not up to this that’s OK.” — submitted by Emilie M.

5. “But it’s the most wonderful time of the year!”

“Most people that know me know my mother died two days before Halloween and my dad 10 days before Christmas two years apart. I lost both of them by the time I was 20… but you don’t get why the holidays always are when my most severe depression can hit?” — Missy L. 

“My depression takes no breaks. Please don’t act like I can just push it away for a day or two so you can be happy.” — Alysha P. 

“Like yeah, I’m aware, but it’s not a cure for my mental health disorder.” — Amy W.

What you could say instead: “’You are so worth every second, and you’re the greatest gift that was given to me.’ Sometimes I just feel so useless and unwanted, all I want to know is I am wanted.” — submitted by Janell R.

6. “You’re not going to see your family? But family is everything.” 

“Not all families create a sense of happiness or safety. For some people being in contact with their family is the worst thing for them. People need to understand and respect that.” — Kacey K.

What you could say instead: I don’t understand what you are going through, but if you talk to me about, I might be able to learn something from this so I can understand what you’re struggling with.” — submitted by Sugar L.

7. “You’re such a Grinch.”

“It is very destructive to call people ‘negative,’ and name calling is a horrible way to treat people, such as calling people a ‘Grinch’ or a ‘Scrooge.’ — Kirrie S.

“The holidays have never been my favorite time of the year, but after the traumatic passing of my father last year the whole season has left me feeling like I want to scream. While a lot of people don’t get it, I am lucky enough to know a few that do.” — Emilie M.

What you could say instead: “I’m here for you. Tell me how I can help.” — submitted by Christopher C.

8. “Are you going to eat all of that?” (Or any other comment about food).

“Holidays are really hard as a recovering anorexic. I am trying to convince myself to let myself enjoy all of the holiday food and the social aspect of eating together, and having anyone point out the amount of food on my plate sends me into a silent panic.” — Marie A.

“Lots of people shame themselves about how much/what they eat during the holidays and the subsequent diets they will go on afterward, which can be triggering being in recovery from an eating disorder.” — Sam A. 

What you could say instead: “We love you for who you are.” — submitted by Theodore B.

9. “You have nothing to be so sad about.”

“I know that. That’s why guilt has such a huge place in my depression. I just wished they said nothing about it and acted like I’m fine for once, not like I’m a porcelain doll about to break.” — Viviane A.

“I’m well aware I have things to be thankful for, that also makes me feel worse because I then feel guilty for feeling like I do. Yeah, most aren’t a major fan of the holidays, but when you see other people with their families and you would give anything to have just one family holiday of your own again, it tends to sting even more.” — Liz K.

What you could say instead: “I’m sorry you’re having a difficult time right now. If company would help, we can plan something together that won’t be stressful for you.” — submitted by Lisa M.

What would you add?

Lead photo via Kerkez

Originally published: December 14, 2017
Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home