Over Christmas, most people are busy shopping, preparing and looking forward to seeing friends and family.
Though it’s often referred to as “the most wonderful time of the year”, for many young people it can be a lonely and challenging time.
With one in four of us experiencing mental health difficulties at any time, it’s important to be mindful of how to look after both ourselves and others at this time of year. Many young people have never had the “magical” Christmas featured in the films. In fact, for some it has been a painful time for them.
These experiences can affect a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviours. Some people may talk about hearing voices or seeing things, while others may feel as though things are “unreal” around them.
How to help someone with their mental health this Christmas
We know it takes time for young people who are experiencing poor mental health to open up and trust professionals. At Centrepoint, our mental health advisors challenge the stigma surrounding mental health, break down barriers to support and give young people a safe, confidential space to discuss their mental health and access help. We also provide advocacy for young people to ensure their voices are heard, their rights are upheld and their needs are met through working with external services.
Young people may have nightmares or thoughts about past difficult times that they cannot get out of their mind. Some can feel overwhelmed by sadness, shame, or anxiety, while others may feel an absence of emotion.
Here are some of the steps our mental health advisors take to support young people over the Christmas period.
Treat young people as the experts
Talking about our feelings can be difficult and young people may avoid talking about their Christmas plans for this reason. However, this can often make the person feel more excluded. Talking openly with them can help reduce distress. Young people with mental health issues know best what's helpful and what’s not, so the best approach is to treat them as the experts about their own mental health.
Encourage healthier behaviours
Many young people will try to avoid this time of year and the feelings it brings. They may do this by sleeping more or over using prescribed medication and illicit substances, or drinking more alcohol. By providing young people with support, we encourage them to avoid harmful coping mechanisms and engage in healthier behaviours. Finding activities to distract young people to switch off from negative thoughts can be very useful.
Create a coping plan
It can be really helpful to support young people to develop a coping ahead plan for how they’re going to deal with this period. These identify potential triggers, and where and when they're going to peak. Together with the young person, it’s useful to make a list of coping strategies and how to manage certain situations.
Take things easy
Finally, we try to encourage young people to take things easy, relax and be kind to themselves. Remind them that they’re allowed to take breaks, and do things that perhaps don’t involve lots of people.
Mental health and physical health are equally as important. If you fell over and grazed your knee on Christmas Day, you’d put a plaster on it. So if your mental health needs a plaster, you’re allowed to do something about it.
If you see a young person who you feel is at high risk, please contact emergency services.
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