The Christmas season in America is thought to be carefree and whimsical, associated with joy, food, and fun. However, for some, especially individuals with severe mental illness, it can be a time of despair, loneliness and depressing memories. Turnbull (2015) found in his study, 36% of individuals with mental health problems have engaged in non-suicidal injurious behaviors during the holiday season, but more than half of the participants considered harming themselves around Christmas, while 45% have considered taking their own life. A further 76% of participants in the study reported having problems sleeping, and 60% of people reported experiencing panic attacks over the festive period.
Research has found components that can aid individuals with severe mental illness, such as engaging in leisure activities (Lloyd, King, Lampe & McDougall, 2001), but unfortunately these individuals lack possibilities to spend this time in ways that are meaningful to them (Perese, 1997). Leisure activities for individuals with severe mental illnesses have shown to have the potential to improve quality of life (Pieris & Craik, 2004; Carruthers & Hood, 2004). Leisure around the Christmas holiday for both individuals with and without disorders/disabilities is often what is wanted and hoped for, which is why it seems to be readily researched but the importance of holiday trips for people with severe mental illnesses is not widely known (Pols & Kroon, 2007). Results from Pols and Kroon (2007) found that one can assist individuals with severe mental illness while on a holiday trip by managing their medication, finances, and creating a somewhat structured routine. In addition, the researchers found holiday trips were linked with rehabilitation goals that were hard to identify by staff members who worked with the participants in the institutional setting. Holiday trips for individuals with severe mental illness helped the participants establish and maintain social relationships.
That is what the holiday season should be about, positive supportive connections, with the people that matter most in life. Turnbull (2015) suggested to combat unhealthy activities and coping methods, to “Look out for one another and show that you care by listening supportively, be affectionate, appreciative, or simply by spending time with loved ones.”
Carruthers, C. P., & Hood, C. D. (2004). The power of the positive: Leisure and well- being. Therapeutic Recreation Journal, 38(2), 225-245.
Lloyd, C., King, R., Lampe, J., & McDougall, S. (2001). The leisure satisfaction of people with psychiatric disabilities. Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 25(2), 107-113. doi:10.1037/h0095035
Perese, E. F. (1997). Unmet needs of persons with chronic mental illnesses: Relationship to their adaptation to community living. Issues In Mental Health Nursing, 18(1), 19-34. doi:10.3109/01612849709006537
Pieris, Y., & Craik, C. (2004). Factors Enabling and Hindering Participation in Leisure for People with Mental Health Problems. The British Journal Of Occupational Therapy, 67(6), 240-247. doi:10.1177/030802260406700602
Pols, J., & Kroon, H. (2007). The importance of holiday trips for people with chronic mental health problems. Psychiatric Services, 58(2), 262-265.
Turnbull, A. (2015). Pressures of Christmas lead to rise in mental health problems. Independent Nurse, 1.
Katy Roth, MA, CRC
WKPIC Doctoral Intern