Dear Family with loved ones who suffer with a mental illness,
Next week the U.S will be celebrating Thanksgiving and the official beginning of the holiday season. Before everyone starts to run around buying presents and filling schedules with engagements, let’s sit down and make a plan to ensure both the holidays and the months that follow continue to promote a safe and stable life for your loved ones. This plan involves taking into consideration any family member that may have bipolar or any other mental or physical illness. Please above all, be understanding.
Discuss and ask your family member how they feel about your plans.
- Do they want to attend?
- Do they feel it will affect their health negatively if they do?
- What can you do to help them make the event less stressful for them?
- Do they want to have a smaller, more intimate celebration instead of attending the large one?
Let your family member know that you do not want them to feel left out and that you will understand if they choose not to attend. If you are a caregiver, you may have to make the decision for your family member based on their present symptoms and past history. I let my husband choose to work on the holidays and therefore completely eliminate having to explain to family why he is not attending. We have our own very casual celebrations.
Tips to Reduce Stress during Gatherings
- Do not force your family member to be active in any preparation.
- Ask if they want to help to make them feel included but let them step away if you feel they are getting stressed.
- Make sure you make contingency plans so that you don’t get stressed as well.
- Try to make plans fit within the family member’s regular schedule.
- Remember that changes in diet, routine and sleep patterns can affect their stability.
- Let them come later or leave early.
- Do not make them fit into your plans.
- Alcohol can have an effect on mood and effectiveness of medications. Do not promote an environment that makes your family member feel they have to drink to fit in or embarrassed because they turn it down. If you serve alcohol, I suggest you limit the amount and type available.
- Large gatherings can be very stressful for family members with anxiety. Consider having available a small area where your family member can either escape to or converse with others in a smaller group.
The goal here is to have a happy holiday and continued stability after. If your insistence on the Norman Rockwell Christmas leads to a relapse after the holidays, was it worth it? No. So start making your plans now and always be prepared for adjustments based on your family members’ current health.
P.S. Use the above letter as a starting point for conversation with your family if you are the one diagnosed with an illness.
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