Jay Red

It’s the holiday season. Our culture—from our commercials to our movies, from our workplaces to our yards—tells us that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year.” In many ways it is. But a lot of it is stressful, cold, sunless and a burden on both our pocketbooks and our mental health.

The magic of the season is the collective nature of the holiday. This is why it can be so difficult for people who suffer from depression, anxiety or isolation. We are human, we are pack animals, and we are bound by community. The real curse of mental illness is that it robs us of a sense of community, connection, and belonging.

Anyone you know is going to spend the holidays alone? Is a neighbor going through a divorce or is work forcing them to travel? You don’t have to buy anything to give as a gift. Gifts come in many forms, not just in the form of toys and sweaters, but in spirit and support.

For the past 15 years, I have worked closely with people and organizations fighting to increase mental health awareness and mental health services in New Jersey. I worked closely with the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Mercer County, the New Jersey chapter of NAMI, and the national organization. I worked with the Christie and Murphy administrations to expand access to mental health services and worked to reframe the fundamental approach that mental health problems are health problems. Throughout my time working with policymakers and nonprofits, our society has made tremendous strides in destigmatizing the struggle with mental health.

In my work, I have seen firsthand the huge impact that access to services can have on individuals and families.

Ask for help with all your might

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Our therapy and psychiatry have normalized. We connected to the national mental health hotline (988). And we have national campaigns to spread the message that it is possible to ask for help. And yet, despite all the festive cheer that surrounds the holidays, you know someone who is struggling, feeling down, feeling the pressure of the season, and doing it all on their own—no therapist, no psychiatrist, no mental health tools, and too much shame seek support.

I don’t say this to scare you or make you feel guilty; I say this because repetition helps build awareness. I say this so that we, myself included, can know our friends and family better. If Nick seems a little depressed, or Noelle seems a little tense, try not to let those thoughts pass you by. Arrival. Go to them. Offer support even when they don’t ask, because most of us don’t know how to ask, especially when the going gets tough and our struggles seem insurmountable.

For those struggling, or those looking to support a loved one, neighbor or co-worker, here are a few places to access the many resources available in New Jersey:

I’m proud of our state and all the services we have, but it often takes the personal support of a loved one or friend to really get a person from point A to point B—from a friend who’s struggling internally to a friend getting the help they need.

It really is an amazing time of year. There are a thousand things to be happy and grateful for, but as we celebrate, we also need to be aware of the people around us, loved ones or just nearby, because the holidays also shine a light on people who feel alone or out of place. And the biggest impact we can have on people who feel this way is to help them feel part of a community, to give them the gift of belonging.

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