This Mental Health Week, The Wellness Network joins the National Association of Mental Illness to help promote awareness of mental health and erase the stigma associated with mental health. Our mental health programming, which was refreshed and expanded in 2018, is designed to provide clinicians with tools you can use to address mental health issues in any setting—a hospital, a clinic, or in the privacy of a patient’s home.
For patients with chronic illnesses and their caregivers, the mental health challenges that come with the holidays are compounded by the mental health challenges already associated with their illness and care. Depression, which affects almost 10% of American adults in any given year, is much more common among people who suffer from chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and COPD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, the holidays are a particularly vulnerable time for many people, including those with social anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorders, panic disorders related to travel, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression.
At the same time, for people who don’t have a chronic illness but do suffer from a mental illness like depression or anxiety, there is increased risk of getting ill, especially at times of higher stress like the holidays.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your patients overcome these challenges and lower their risk of suffering from depression and anxiety. It begins with enhanced communication and providing the right education to give them tools and support to identify problematic feelings and thoughts and seek out help when it’s appropriate.
The Wellness Network’s Mental Health library offers comprehensive education on mental illnesses that includes strategies your patients can trust, such as:
Setting appropriate goals. The holidays especially are a time of outsized goals, as people push themselves to travel more, socialize more, spend more, and there’s the added stress of having to “live up” to the expectation of having the “perfect holiday.” One good strategy is to set realistic goals that are appropriate to the situation, such as bringing in food instead of trying to cook extravagant meals or setting a timeframe at a party or event and leaving on time.
Reducing alcohol and substance consumption. Just saying “no” is a powerful tool anyone can use to protect their mental health over the holidays. Although many people turn to alcohol and drugs to relieve stress and make social situations easier, in fact these substances have been shown to increase anxiety. At the same time, using alcohol or any substance as a social or mental health crutch increases the risk of dependency and all of the negative physical and mental health consequences that comes with it.
Identify areas of concern and address them. Not everyone has the same issues—some people may dread a family visit while others thrive on family contact. Instead of treating everything the same, encourage patients to identify specifically which events and/or situations are likely to cause anxiety, then develop strategies to deal with them, such as leaving early.
Plan travel ahead of time as much as possible. Fear of travel is a serious issue for many people, and this can be compounded on heavy travel times such as the holidays. It can help to book flights that leave earlier to avoid airport crowds. Similarly, making plans ahead of time for hotel, rental cars, and other reservations can help reduce anxiety.
Take medications as prescribed. We know that patients who have been prescribed medications are more likely to skip them when their routines are disturbed. Encourage strategies that help people follow their prescriptions. This might mean setting daily reminders on their phone or buying a pill dispenser that can send automatic reminders.
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