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Tis the season to be 'good enough'

For many mothers, Christmas is a time when we feel overwhelmed: we are trying to be not just the best parents we can be, but also want to be good wives, daughters, aunts, friends, employees, and employers; we want to be the best present-buyers, interior decorators, cooks and hostesses.

We heap these pressures on ourselves, and yet still also strive to be the epitome of festive cheer, merrily carolling along in a sparkly get-up, brimming with jollity and good will. As daylight hours dwindle and the to-do list seems to escalate beyond control, it is hardly surprising that it can all become too much and some of us slip into anxiety and depression.

Mental health charities such as Depression Alliance and SANE report that January always sees an upswing in the numbers contacting their essential support services for those finding life hard: in Depression Alliance’s case, its Friends in Need community, for SANE its helpline.

In my case, it was trying to throw a Christmas party that tipped me into a second breakdown. In the run-up to the party, I had been trying to be all things to all people, despite increasingly bad insomnia and high levels of anxiety. Throwing a party might sound an unlikely trigger to illness, but when I share this story with other mothers, they understand. And there’s no denying that more women come forward to talk about their depression. National Health figures show that in 2013 almost 475,000 women were referred for counselling or behavioural therapy compared to only 274,000 men.

How then can we rekindle the joy of the festive season and keep our sanity in the process? My own approach to Christmas is now somewhat different. We’re not holding a party. Becoming a volunteer in my local prison has helped me to find a new perspective. So too has running poetry workshops for mental health charities. I am entirely the beneficiary, given the well known personal rewards of trying to help others.

I have also tried to reassess my relations with others: research suggests women are especially vulnerable to depression given the pressure they put on themselves to maintain friendships and other relationships. Now I aim to replace 'good' with 'good enough'.

Of course, despite my best intentions I know there will be the usual flap and flurry at some points along the way. But try to remember – the greatest gift that you can give to yourself and to your family is a calm you. I hope that you have a very merry, peaceful and restful Christmas.

Photo: Mike Kniec

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