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We can’t always know what is going on beneath the surface with someone that we know or even someone that we don’t know. If someone smiles, we don’t know how much effort goes into making that smile happen. If someone is sad, mad, irritable, or silent, we can never know what has inspired that response as well. Often, we misinterpret surface level behavior for someone being who they are as opposed to acting in response to what they’ve gone through. Unfortunately, we might be missing a serious cry for help, a sign that someone is having a particularly tough time with their mental health that day.

The holiday season can bring out the best and the worst in people. As we go to our various holiday celebrations with friends, family, peers, and co-workers, we can look out for signs that someone is struggling. Don’t overlook the person sulking in the corner alone or the cousin hitting the punch more than usual. Ask questions. Talk to them personally. Show them that you care. Your conversation could be the best part of their day- or even their year. Whether you are in recovery yourself or have a close family member or friend who is in recovery, we all have an opportunity to ask as an advocate and support someone in need.

Surprising Signs of Struggle:

“I’m just not feeling well”- Mental health is nearly synonymous with physical health. Mental health struggles often manifest somatically, creating discomfort and even illness in the body. When someone says they just aren’t feeling well, they are telling the truth, but they might not be telling you the whole story.“I didn’t sleep well”- Mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, bipolar, and PTSD can cause sleep disturbances like insomnia, nightmares, and night terrors. Being exhausted from a lack of sleep can make the next day’s mental health even more exhausting to deal with.“I’m not feeling like myself today”- Various mental health struggles can cause this sensation on different levels, some more severe than others. Depression, for example, can leave one feeling like they are in a sort of fog. Anxiety can cause someone to be hyper and on edge. Experiences with trauma and drug addiction can cause forms of dissociation like depersonalization and derealization.“Don’t worry about me”- Sadly, shame, guilt, and stigma cause isolation for many people who are struggling with mental health. Commonly when someone tells us not to worry, or to leave us alone, they are too afraid to ask for support out of fear of being judged.