This Holiday Season, Talk About Mental Health in Your Family

Susan Weinstein, JD
Editor in Chief, Care for Your Mind

We have an assignment for you: when your family is gathered to celebrate any of the upcoming holidays, have a conversation about your  health history. There’s no better time than now to learn about your family’s health history, including mental health issues.

Why is this worth your while? Mental health conditions such as mood disorders have a strong genetic component. Knowing that a parent or grandparent or even aunt or uncle displayed signs of depression or bipolar disorder or that your family had lost a loved one to suicide can help you understand behaviors and be alert to potential changes in your kids and yourself.

Also, having conversations about mental health provides an opportunity for psycho education, through which you can help to decrease the stigma of mental illness and encourage your loved ones to seek help if they are experiencing symptoms of mood disorders or other mental health conditions.

What you learn might also put your family on a path to better overall health if you prioritize

  • stress management
  • adequate and regular quality sleep
  • eating a nutritious and balanced diet
  • getting daily exercise.
  • positive self-care practices
  • seeking professional help when concerns arise.

Having this knowledge might also provide an impetus to minimize risk factors for suicide and increase protective factors. Making it okay to talk about mental health concerns and strengthening the interpersonal connections within your family are both important for suicide prevention. (Download the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s paper on “Understanding Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide”)

While you can’t change your family mental health history, knowing your family’s experience with depression, bipolar disorder, suicide, and other mental health issues and taking positive actions can be a key for better health now and for the next generations.

Wishing you well for the holidays.

** Watch for upcoming posts on psychiatric advance directives and making a family action plan, coming in December! **


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