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Here’s how to help a friend struggling with Christmas

Christmas can be difficult for many in the LGBTQ community. Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK Insurance shares advice for supporting those around you.

By Will Stroude

Christmas can be a difficult time for many of us, even without the current coronavirus pandemic. There are lots of different reasons for finding Christmas tough; you may be experiencing issues with your mental health, feel anxious about the latest Covid-19 restrictions, or you might feel lonely, especially if you’re estranged from your family, or if you’re not able to see them over the holidays.

It’s more important than ever to support your friends and loved ones who may be struggling over the festivities. Help is at-hand: we recently spoke with Pablo Vandenabeele – Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK Insurance – about how to help a friend struggling with their mental health.

Understand Christmas is different for everyone

As Christmas approaches, it’s important to recognise that Christmas can bring up mixed emotions for everyone. What brings one-person joy might be a major stress for someone else. Difficult and stressful experiences at Christmas could exacerbate mental health worries. Spending time with your family may be a source of stress itself, especially if you have had disagreements with them in the past.

If you notice a friend or loved one seems anxious or stressed about how they’re spending Christmas, it’s important to be there for them and support them with any worries they have. Listen to their concerns, let them know you understand Christmas can be difficult, and you’re here to help.

Reassure them that they’re not alone

Although many of us see the festive season as a time to get together and spend time with our loved ones, Christmas can be a lonely time for some; especially if you’re estranged from your family, or you’re not able to see some of your family with the restrictions in place.

If you’re worried about your friend feeling lonely, ask them about their plans and if there’s anything about these plans that might be a struggle for them. Easing a friend or loved one’s loneliness can be helped by spending time together, whether it’s virtually or face-to-face. If you’ve got a spare place for Christmas and restrictions permit, why not invite them to spend the holidays with you?

Encourage your friend to open-up

If your friend is experiencing issues with their mental health, they may find it difficult to open-up about how they’re feeling. There are a few things you can do to help your loved one. Start by letting them know it’s OK to open-up and talk to you about any worries they have. This can be tough at first, but starting with direct, open-ended questions like ‘how do you feel about Christmas?’ can help.

It’s also important to listen to what they say and accept their feelings.

Check-in every day

Over the past few months, we’ve learnt to be creative with catching up with our loved ones, such as through video calls, quizzes and online catchups. Even though Christmas is a notoriously busy time, it’s important to carry this over to the festivities – especially if you have a loved one who is struggling.

Where you can, it’s important to still check-in and speak to your friend. Perhaps block out time each morning for a quick call with them, to see how they’re feeing. Or why not set up a group chat with some of your friends, so you can all catchup together?

Seek support together

Whilst your support is invaluable, it may also be worth sending your friend helpline numbers that are available throughout the Christmas period. It’s worth letting them know about helplines that are open on Christmas Day itself, as several are closed. SANEline and the Samaritans are both open.

There are also lots of online resources that may help too, such as Bupa’s mental health hub, MIND and the Rethink.

Looking after yourself over the festive period is equally important, as it can be tough to support someone who is struggling. We’ve all had a tough year, so give yourself time to rest up and speak to someone close if you’re struggling, too.