22 December 2021

Children’s Mental Health at Christmas: How can I help?

‘A child once described Christmas to us as like looking through a shop window where everything inside is warm and bright, and you are outside where it’s cold and dark’ explains Dame Esther Rantzen, the Founder of Childline. This can be a feeling that many of us can relate to. Christmas is widely celebrated as a magical, exciting time for children. But what do we do when our children’s mental health can be especially difficult over the Christmas period? When the media is full of happy families and ‘the perfect Christmas’, it is common to experience feelings of isolation. Keep reading to find out ways that you can enjoy the festive period this year, whilst looking after yours or a young person’s mental health.

Eating Disorders and Christmas

With most eating disorders developing during adolescence, they are most common in individuals between the ages of 16- and 40-year-olds, holding the highest mortality rate amongst psychiatric disorders. Undeniably, Christmas is notoriously a time of indulgence; with the soar in Christmas dinners, cheese boards, mince pies and more – eating to excess seems to be an old British tradition that can be detrimental to an eating disorder recovery. If a young person in your family is struggling with an eating disorder, it is a good idea to initiate an open conversation about how they are feeling at this time.

  1. It may be helpful to limit the number of family members around the dinner table this year, as eating around distant family members can be uncomfortable. Family members may even be worried about saying the wrong thing, however always avoiding comments about appearance, diets and food is a general guideline.
  2. Focus on Christmas traditions that aren’t centred around eating food, such as board games, shopping, or putting up Christmas decorations. In some circumstances, getting them involved in the cooking or baking can help them to feel less excluded in the festivities.
  3. Serving food as a buffet rather than a sit-down meal can take away the pressure of finishing a plate of food.


The ‘Picture Perfect’ Christmas

With Christmas widely celebrated as the happiest time of the year, it is all too easy for young people to compare themselves to the ‘picture perfect’ ideal seen on social media, resulting in picking apart their own experiences. Broken family dynamics, lost loved ones, and overhearing financial struggles from parents can hugely impact anyone’s Christmas spirit.

  1. Remember that mental health conditions don’t just take a break because it’s the 25th of December. Sit down with your loved ones and plan ahead, make sure to communicate about their worries and how you can support them.
  2. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Support lines, therapy sessions, and online communities are only one step away, with most even being available 24/7 around the holidays. Young Minds, Mind, Childline, Papyrus, etc are great places to turn for that extra guidance, support, and advice.
  3. Try to keep personal issues such as family and financial problems between adults. Children and young people dealing with bad mental health don’t need the added stress and anxiety, and issues like this can weigh heavier on their shoulders than you realise.


How do we help?

With over 25 years’ practical experience and knowledge dealing with young people with mental health conditions, we understand complex mental health care in a way few others do. Having such long-established CAMHS services, we are able to provide Psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICU), General Adolescent Units (GAU), and Eating Disorder Units (EDU). Our experienced team includes Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and a wide range of therapists, for example, family therapists and dietitians, as well as social workers and teachers. Our services and team, strive to make children and young people who are inpatients over the festive season feel thought-about, special and included.

For more information on how our services can help young people with mental health problems, visit our CAMHS page here.