5 Tips for LGBTQ People on Surviving Holiday Depression

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Winter is a notoriously emotional time for many. The holidays pose a particularly difficult experience for anyone with less than a Norman Rockwell-esque family situation, and Seasonal Affective Disorder doesn’t help. It’s enough to make anyone want to drown their sorrows in a cup of butterscotch schnapps-spiked hot cocoa while hate-watching a marathon of Hallmark Channel Christmas movies starring Candace Cameron-Bure.

But for queer people, there’s often an added sense of depression. Paloma Woo, LCSW, Senior Crisis Services Manager at the Trevor Project says their LGBTQ suicide hotline receives a particularly high volume of calls during this time of year.

“The holidays can be particularly hard for queer youth for lots of reasons, and it is one of the busiest times at the Trevor Project,” Woo tells OUT. “Every December we see an increase in the number of young people reaching to our crisis services programs and expect that this year will be no different.”

For many queer people, going home to family means entering a toxic environment where they can’t fully be themselves. For others, there’s not a family to go home to in the first place. Queer psychotherapist and OUT100 honoree, Nick Fager has seen many people in these situations at his practice, which focuses on queer and trans patients.

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Queer psychotherapist and OUT100 honoree, Nick Fager (Photography by Martin Schoeller)

“The holidays bring up a certain degree of sadness for anyone that isn’t in a relationship, but then there’s this added family piece in our community,” Fager says. “Many queer people are reminded over the holidays that their family never fully accepted them for who they are, and if they are going home, they are faced with the reality that they can’t bring their full selves home – they need to be that modified, censored version that will live up to mom and dad’s standards.”

But just as with any trigger experience, there are tools for any queer person struggling to cope with the holidays. Fager has provided some helpful tips to keep your mental health in check this season.

1. Set Boundaries

“Lay down boundaries where you need to...You never have to partake in anything that you don’t want to, and learning to say no to family is crucial for mental health. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love them, it means that you are different than them, and that’s okay.”

  • Instead of staying in the toxic heteronormative house where you pretended your Lizzie McGuire poster was because of your childhood crush on Hilary Duff, opt for a hotel.

  • If the family wants to go to midnight mass at the church that convinced you your identity is a sin, politely decline and spend the evening searching Grindr for your exes.

  • When your uncle who wears sleeveless tees to every family function starts praising Trump’s America, leave the room.

2. Buddy System

“Have a safe person that you can call at any time who will not invalidate what you’re saying, even if it sounds irrational. Someone who can just listen and be there for you, ideally someone who is also queer and can empathize with your situation. Establish this connection before the holidays, and let the person know exactly what you need from them.

As queer people, our first instinct is often to hide our pain and keep everything inside because at one point in our lives we had to — it was way too risky to share our truth. This is a pattern that needs to be challenged in our adult lives if we want to be emotionally healthy.”

  • If your grandmother asks when you’re gonna marry a nice girl because she conveniently forgot for the 17th time that you’re a power bottom, call a buddy.

  • When your mom comes for the “men in dresses” on RuPaul’s Drag Race: All Stars, text until your fingers bleed.

3. Shake Things Up

“If you’re feeling anxious, depressed, or constrained at home, another option is to shake things up a bit and express parts of yourself that you might not have expressed in the past. 

Sometimes our fears and the way we censor ourselves around family are based more on our own shame and internalized homophobia than on our reality in the present day. All of our fears are there for a reason, but maybe they’re in need of an update. Often, people do change and become more accepting, but they can only show that they’ve changed if we take the risk of presenting a new side of ourselves. By making the decision to show up authentically, you subconsciously say to your family, “I’m okay with me now, are you?” And remember, the answer to the second part of that sentence doesn’t change the first part.

Of course it’s a fine line here, between furthering your authenticity with family and protecting yourself from further pain and invalidation. Your gut is always your best compass, but try not to write people off before feeling out the situation.”

  • If you’ve never kissed your partner in front of your family, go for it. Your cousin is probably just jealous that he’s hot and her husband has a unibrow.

  • If your family’s not used to seeing your feminine side, sport that Dolls Kill faux fur coat that any gender could slay in the Christmas card photo.

4. Chosen Family

“If you’re not going home, the holidays are a great opportunity to build your chosen family. This means being both proactive and vulnerable. It’s easy to let old narratives keep you isolated and fulfill your worst nightmare — if you believe that you are hopelessly alone and no one wants to spend the holidays with you, and you don’t challenge that belief, then you will likely create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If instead, you challenge those beliefs and commit to being proactive and vulnerable, then you will find people to spend the holidays with because there are so many LGBTQ people in the exact same position as you.”

  • Take a leap with those Insta gays you kinda know and invite them over for a holiday gathering. Just make sure they tag you for their 17k followers to enjoy.

  • Gay bars are basically church for other LGBTQ folk not going home for the holidays, and they usually play much better music than your southern Baptist family.

5. Focus On Self Care

“It’s basic, but we forget about it during the holidays because there is so much going on. Sleep, diet, exercise, and consciously carving out time for an activity that restores you is crucial at this time of year to refill your tank and take care of your body.”

  • Enjoy a cannabis bath bomb before enduring a day of fake joy over gifts that were definitely purchased at Walmart.

  • When your sister suggests a prayer circle, sit in your mom’s Nissan Altima and enjoy some quiet meditation.

  • If the church choir invites you out for caroling, stay in and make some gender neutral gingerbread people or partake in some other calming activity.

Additional Resources

  • For the Trevor Project’s LGBTQ suicide prevention services, call their 24/7 hotline at (866) 488-7386 or visit the The Trevor Project.

  • For the Anti-Violence Project’s crisis intervention services, call their 24/7 hotline at (212) 714-1141 or visit the Anti-Violence Project.

  • Set up a teletherapy session with Nick Fager or one of his colleagues at Expansive Therapy.

  • To find LGBTQ-friendly healthcare professionals in your area, visit Lighthouse.

  • To find an LGBTQ community center in your area, visit CenterLink.

  • To find LGBTQ groups in your area, visit LGBTQ Meetups.

  • To find family, friends, and allies in your area, visit PFLAG.

Related | Lighthouse: The One-Stop Shop for Queer People to Find Doctors & Specialists They Can Trust

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