Not all people feel merry and bright during the holiday season. In fact, it’s a time of great despair and loneliness for many as they struggle with depression. Read more for helpful tips on how to walk alongside someone who is depressed, especially during the Christmas holidays.
It’s that time of year that is festive and bright. Streets are adorned with holiday lights, and mailboxes are stuffed with cards and letters from friends throughout the years. Trees are carefully decorated with twinkling lights, carefully placed tinsel, ornaments tucked with precision from top branches to lowest boughs, and perfectly wrapped packages topped with shimmery bows. Parking lots are full, and shops stay open late to accommodate the after-work shopper stopping in to pick up the perfect gift. Full calendars testify to holiday events from Christmas parties to concerts and tree-lighting ceremonies. Music in shopping malls, car radios, and even grocery stores offer hopes of merriment, peace, and goodwill. Even normal television programming gives way to shows about reindeer, talking snowmen, and families reuniting with promises of “happily ever after.”
While on the outside, “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” are offered in ready supply, not all are feeling the holiday cheer. In fact, for many, it’s a time of great despair and loneliness. The holidays are not always merry and bright, and depression is a very real experience for many.
I’m often asked how does one effectively walk alongside one who is depressed? Especially during the Christmas holidays?
Jesus said, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:40 NIV).
At Christmas, or any other day, when we seek to honor Him, we need only to reach out to those who are lost, broken or hurting, and it pleases Him.
But practically, what does that look like when someone is depressed?
10 Ways to Help the Depressed at Christmas
Here are some practical tips both for what to do and what not to do to support someone who is struggling with depression.
- Because the Christmas holidays are hard and often prompt or exacerbate depression for many, when you know that the holidays are specifically a factor in their depression, engage with them but avoid holiday-themed events. Spend time together outside of holiday parties or venues that are heavily decorated. Eliminate the stress of a gift exchange because that adds stress, expectation, and guilt if they aren’t able to reciprocate.
- On the other hand, when you know someone is alone during the Christmas holidays, and that contributes to their depression, include them in your celebrations. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have them over while your family opens their gifts –that could be awkward and make them feel uncomfortable. But you could invite them to join you at your Christmas eve service or when you go caroling.
- Keep your expectations minimal. For someone battling depression, normal everyday activities can seem overwhelming. Honor this and keep your expectations to a minimum. Meet them where it is convenient for them, and offer to help where you can.
- While you may not be able to relate to depression if you haven’t gone through it yourself, respect and honor their feelings. Understand that depression is a medical condition just like diabetes or heart disease. Know that no one chooses to feel this way.
- Be sensitive to the topics that are painful to them and focus your conversation elsewhere. For example, sometimes the holidays exacerbate depression because of grief or loss of family members. Some individuals will feel a sense of comfort talking about their lost family, while others will feel heightened sadness by this. In the latter, engage them in conversation about less painful topics such as their hobbies or work.
- Depression fuels loneliness. Be a wingman for them. To support a friend or loved one who is struggling with depression doesn’t necessarily mean doing anything special—just be there. Sit with them. Be available. Include them in your gatherings, but understand if they decline. Show respect. Love with compassion.
- When someone is struggling with depression, especially during the Christmas holidays, do not judge or criticize. God is the only one who should be in that position. If you’ve never walked that path, it’s hard to truly understand how painful the suffering is. Extend grace and compassion.
- Additionally, avoid comparison. It’s rarely helpful to someone struggling with depression for their situation to be compared to someone else’s. In truth, it doesn’t matter how anyone else fared because they are still hurting.
- Avoid minimizing their pain. Whatever you do, don’t convey that what they are going through isn’t that bad or could be worse. When you’re in the valley of depression, it feels like about the worse thing you can imagine and to suggest otherwise is just plain insensitive.
- Before spending time with one who is struggling with depression, pray. Pray for them, and pray to have mercy and grace toward them and their situation. All any of us wants is to be loved, accepted, and considered worthy. Yet depression has a way of coloring one’s perspective and lying to them. Pray for an ability to show truth through your words and deeds.
“Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15 NLT).
While we cannot be responsible for someone else’s emotional well-being, we can be the hands and feet of Jesus, showing the same love and compassion He would show. While not wrapped in paper or topped with a perfect bow, that just may be the best gift you offer to anyone this Christmas.
Because of Him,
3 Free Resources to Start Your Year Off Right
Out of my love and gratitude for you, I want to offer you three resources to look forward to in the new year.
The 7-Day Today is Going to be a Good Day Challenge
Many years ago I was physically and emotionally failing and needed a reason to get up and optimistically face the day. I wrote my very first social media “Today is Going to be a Good Day” post to encourage not only myself but others as well. That became what has now been a seven-year daily ministry on social media, and the premise for my latest book, Today is Going to be a Good Day: 90 Promises From God to Start Your Day Off Right . I learned how important our mindset is, so I’m offering a free 7-Day Today is Going to be a Good Day Challenge. We’ll send you a daily encouraging email, short encouraging video with tips for helping you to have a good day, the offer to participate in a Facebook group for accountability and support if you desire, as well as freebies and giveaways. I hope you’ll join us. Register here.
Free Webinar: Help for When You’re Feeling Blue
I know the winter months following the hustle and bustle of the holidays can contribute to a higher incidence of the blues. So I want to offer a free webinar for you or your friends and loved ones, to share professional and personal insights on some things that can help you mitigate the blues even when you can’t change the finances, the weather, or some of your contributing relationships. It’s free to you. It’ll be a live event with a replay available for those who sign up but can’t attend live. Sign up now.
First-ever Online Hope Prevails Bible Study
Readers have been asking me to lead an online version of the Hope Prevails Bible Study and God has spurred my heart to offer it in late January to help get through the winter months as we anticipate the joy of spring. I would love to have you join us, and perhaps even consider inviting a friend to join with you. Everything is better with a friend! I’ll be sharing more in future emails about the Bible study, but you can sign up here.
Friend, I pray that wherever you find yourself this holiday season, that you would experience that hope, peace, and joy that comes from having a relationship with Jesus!
Great points, Michelle! We probably all know someone who suffers from depression and the holidays can be the most difficult. Reaching out with love and compassion seems like the best thing to do.
Hope you have had a wonderful week so far!
Mary, one in four adults suffers from diagnosable depression, so I guarantee we ALL know someone who suffers–whether they admit to it or talk about it or not. We just need to walk with our eyes and ears open to the prompting of God to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Bless you my friend! Merry Christmas!
Lord make me the hands and feet of Your Son so that I can share His love and compassion with those who are hurting. Such lovely advice on a tough topic!
Liz, with a heartfelt prayer like that, you can be assured He will use you. All He is looking for is surrendered hearts. And the good news is, we aren’t responsible for the outcome: He IS!!! What the depressed need to know and can see in us is that Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
My best friend has been struggling with depression for 3 years. She’s under a doctor’s care and seeking counseling, but I still have trouble knowing what to say or how to help her. These suggestions and your insight is helpful. thanks!
I certainly understand, Karen. I hope you find this post helpful. You may also find a couple of my other popular posts helpful as well: What to Say When a Loved One Is Depressed (https://drmichellebengtson.com/what-to-say-when-a-loved-one-is-depressed/), What Not to Say When a Loved One is Depressed (https://drmichellebengtson.com/what-not-to-say-when-a-loved-one-is-depressed/) and How to Help a Depressed Loved One (https://drmichellebengtson.com/how-to-help-a-depressed-loved-one/) I’m so grateful your friend has you in her life! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Michelle, thanks for your thoughtful treatment of such an important topic. We forget that true depression is a medical condition. You’ve given me some ideas for how I can help (and also about what NOT to do.)
Betsy, it’s often hard to know what is helpful or hurtful, especially if you haven’t gone through it yourself. I pray that my posts and book will shed some light on that to make it easier for others to come along side those who are hurting. I’ve given some additional links in one of the other comments that you might find helpful as well. Blessings to you my dear friend! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
Thanks, for this Michelle. This is one of those topics that we don’t always want to talk about and I appreciate how you’ve addressed it. The holidays can be such a trying time for many and it helps for us to be sensitive to their needs. Thanks for this ministry of yours. God is truly using you to lift others up. Wishing you blessings for the holidays and beyond!
Marva, thank YOU for your kind encouragement. We don’t always get to choose our area of ministry, but I consider it a privilege that God would use me as a voice for those who are hurting. We can all do something to help someone in need. Often, we just need to know what would be helpful. Thanks for being open to learning and doing. May God bless you in your efforts! Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
So many excellent points here, Michelle! As one who has been depressed at Christmas after the loss of a baby, I found it extremely difficult to navigate. I wish everyone I knew could have read your advice back then. 🙂 But now that I know those feelings myself, I hope that I’ve been able to help others get through tough times a little less stressed. May God continue to bless you as you bless others!
Lisa, it’s not hard to look around and find those who are struggling to find their joy during the holidays. My prayer is that this will help others know how to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those who need to know He’s real right now. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
This was wonderful. As someone who suffers from depression (and now associates the holidays with my father’s death shortly before Christmas last year) I really appreciate it and wish everyone would read it!
Oh Erin, my heart goes out for you and grieves for you and your loss. While I cannot take away your pain, I can take it before our Heavenly Father who is well acquainted with your grief and who catches every tear you cry. He sees you and He cares for you. I know many who grieve during the holidays. I pray this helps. Feel free to share it with those you think it might help. Because of Him, #HopePrevails!
This is excellent advice, Michelle. It will truly help those who are trying to be the hands and feet of Jesus to loved ones or friends struggling with depression during this season of celebration. Thank you!
Thanks for these tips, Michele. This year is our first without my mother-in-law. Having your article in mind will help me be more sensitive to our family member’s differing needs as we come together to find our new normal. Blessings to you.
Wonderful points Michelle that many of us may not think about during the holidays. Love your heart of thinking of those who are hurting during the holidays, so beautiful. #GoodMorningMondays
One of the most important things I need to make my routine habit is praying first about everything and every single encounter with another soul. I loved this post, Michelle, it is so timely and such a gift to keep close and remember those who struggle and feel low. It is the heart of the Savior to love on those who are needing grace. You radiate His love when you lead us to walk like He did.
Excellent advice for ANY time of the year if you have a friend or family member who is feeling depressed!
I hope to be such a thoughtful friend! Great advice!
Really good advice here, Michelle. Thank you! This is a hard season for many people.
Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!