The holiday season is traditionally a time of joy, celebration, and togetherness. However, for many individuals facing mental health challenges or dealing with the recent loss of a loved one, this time of year can be particularly difficult. Recognizing the unique behavioral health challenges that may arise during the holidays is crucial, as even short-term mental health issues can escalate into clinical anxiety and depression.
According to a survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 64 percent of individuals with mental illness reported worsening conditions around the holidays. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) underscores various triggers, such as separation from loved ones, personal grief, economic hardship, and challenging family interactions. It’s essential for individuals, families, and friends to be aware of these challenges and support one another during this sensitive time.
Thankfully, awareness and support is growing.
In a promising move towards improved mental health support, the South Carolina Judicial Branch and South Carolina Court Administration recently hosted a Statewide Mental Health Summit in October 2023. Chief Justice Donald W. Beatty emphasized the need to develop effective, fair, and timely court responses for individuals with serious mental illness. The summit’s outcomes include the creation of an S.C. Courts Mental Health Taskforce, which aims to implement solutions across the state starting in 2024.
Attendees gathered by circuit to understand existing resources, best practices, challenges, and areas for improvement. Multiple agencies in a region may interact with a justice – involved individual, underscoring the critical need for summit participants, which included healthcare providers, advocates, solicitors and public defenders, justices, judges, county clerks, law enforcement and detention center administrators, to collaborate in person. Together they can identify and discuss how to bridge departmental barriers to providing those impacted by severe mental illness a full continuum of care. The Summit’s work of collaboratively identifying solutions to improve justice system responses to individuals with mental illness, will continue with the creation of an S.C. Courts Mental Health Taskforce.
“Fortunately, the stigma surrounding mental health issues are decreasing. Unfortunately, some individuals suffering from mental illness enter the justice system,” said Chief Justice Donald Beatty. “Through this initiative, it is our hope we will develop the policies, resources, tools and other practices needed to create a more effective, fair and timely court response for individuals affected by serious mental illness when they come into contact with the justice system.”
Individuals are doing their part as well.
Individuals are also taking action to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. Attorney of Counsel Jonny McCoy, of The Floyd Law Firm, has not only dedicated himself to advocating for the rights of those in his community but has also founded a mental health peer support app called WhiteFlag. Drawing from his own battle with PTSD and addiction, Jonny created WhiteFlag to provide a safe space for individuals to receive peer support without the need for formal training or certification.
“The worst part about mental illness is that the person who is essentially paralyzed by their mind is also the only person who can save them. Once I survived, I emerged with a vantage point that few people will ever get to experience. I know, intimately, our user base because I’ve been down there with them. When I climbed out, I promised those still in the darkness that I would be back. I returned and WhiteFlag is the ladder that we are throwing back down the hole.”
Jonny McCoy’s words echo the sentiment that often the person grappling with mental illness is also the one who can make a difference. WhiteFlag has gained momentum, raising over $2.3 million in investments, releasing a viral video, and receiving recognition from Fast Company as one of their “World Changing Ideas.”
What you can do.
There are practical steps that everyone can take to support friends or loved ones facing mental health challenges during the holidays. Understanding the importance of listening, being patient, and respecting boundaries are big helpful steps. Even small acts of kindness, like checking in regularly, can make a significant impact.
Remember that support should extend beyond the holiday season. Setting reminders to reach out, marking key dates in calendars, and committing to ongoing communication can provide sustained support for those facing mental health struggles throughout the year.
Be kind to yourself, too. Your own mental and physical well-being matters and recognizing what your triggers are can help you to prepare for stressful situations. Everyone can benefit from learning how to take the necessary steps to avoid stress or cope with overwhelming feelings. Practicing relaxation, focusing on your breathing, and aiming for muscle relaxation are good ways to calm yourself. Taking a short break to refocus can have multiple benefits beyond the immediate situation. Know that it is okay to say no to plans that you just do not feel like doing.
As we navigate the complexities of mental health during the holidays, let us embrace compassion, understanding, and active support for one another. Together, we can make a positive difference in the lives of those who need it most.