CLEARWATER, Fla. — Festive lights, decorations and time with loved ones make the holiday season a joyful time for many. But it can be a dark time for people managing mental health conditions. 

What You Need To Know

  • The holiday season can be a challenging time for people managing mental health conditions

  • A survey by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found 64% of people said their conditions worsen

  • Experts say navigating family dynamics, increased responsibilities and financial challenges can create stress during the holidays

A study by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found 64% of people report their condition worsening over the holidays. 

Armour Savage understands that struggle. Savage served in the Army for 22 years and retired in 2012. Since then, he has been battling post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“I didn’t have the Army to go to. I wasn’t going away being deployed anymore,” Savage said. “It was just right here, and I had to deal with me. And I found out if you don’t deal with your demons, your demons will deal with you.”

Savage was self-medicating to cope with his condition until he made a commitment to get professional help in December 2020. 

“If you don’t have anyone to talk to, you don’t have anyone you can confide in — especially during the holiday season when it’s a rough time anyway — then those demons will take over,” he said. “I would just encourage everyone to get with someone that they love and trust and work from there.”

Savage explained the holidays can become more challenging for people managing mental health conditions because they may feel alone or not understood. 

“It’s just the reality of dealing with a mental disorder, you know,” he said. “You see things that are not there and your reality is skewed. I think that’s the main reason they feel that no one loves them, that no one cares and so they fall into those bad habits.”

During the holidays, mental health providers tend to see greater demand for their services, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Pinellas County. The executive director explained people are often more stressed this time of year due to navigating family dynamics, more responsibilities and financial challenges. 

“We often think about what we don’t want our holiday season to be,” said Siomara Bridges-Mata. “So the challenge there is thinking about ‘what do we want our holiday season to look like?’ ‘How do we want to feel?’ And then aligning those values with creating those experiences.”

Bridges-Mata said if you’re struggling with your mental health during the holidays, one of the best things to do is reach out and talk to someone about it —whether it is with a family member, friend or a mental health professional. 

Savage is now using his story to be a light for others. He completed the Peers in Recovery Mentorship Program through NAMI Pinellas. Just two weeks ago, Savage was hired by the organization to support people in recovery. 

“You’re not alone,” he said. “Someone is there for you. I know exactly how you feel and I always leave with this — I want to be the person to you that I needed for myself when I needed to recover.”

Savage said it feels good to give hope to people facing the same challenges as him and he encourages those who are struggling to not be afraid to ask for help. If you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis, call the 988 Lifeline 24 hours a day, seven days a week.