By Samantha Leveston
It’s that time of year again. It rolls around once in every 12 months and can be simultaneously the best time of the year and the most stressful. It’s the holidays. We take stock of our family and friends. We congregate with those we love and we celebrate that despite the cold weather, we are looking towards the new year.
As we are in the midst of the holiday season and family centric time I’ve started thinking about those without family or other resources to make this time of year all it’s conventionally hyped up to be.
I work at Housing Unlimited, which provides independent housing for people with psychiatric disabilities in Montgomery County, Maryland. We have 52 homes and serve over 150 tenants with safe, affordable housing. One aspect of my job includes visiting tenants weekly to check in on the property and them. Many times I have the opportunity to chat with tenants about how they are and the interesting things they’ve been up to.
Recently while talking with a tenant I asked “do you have any fun plans for the holidays? ” I didn’t think much of the question, but I was later reminded by my co-worker that this can be a challenging question for some of our tenants, and really, to anyone. There’s such expectation that comes with the holidays. Presents, home cooked meals, family. These are all part of what the media portrays as a traditional, happy, holiday season. Living up to those expectations can be challenging. Not everyone has those resources and it’s an important and humbling fact to remember.
With all the pressure of this time of year it’s important for everyone to be conscious of their mental health, and not be afraid to ask for help if it’s needed.
Housing Unlimited is unique in that we solely provide housing—our tenants are responsible for all other aspects of their mental and physical health. Our hope is that, with a stable, safe and affordable roof over their heads, tenants can foster independence in all aspects of their well-being.
Something key to this well-being are support systems—both personal and professional. Family, friends, counselors, doctors, job coaches. All these people contribute to making a person mentally and physically healthy.
At Housing Unlimited many of our tenants use the local county psychiatric service agency or St. Lukes House, a non-profit that provides mental health services among many other services.
Access to these support systems especially around this time of year are not always easy. Office closing for holidays and society’s general pre-occupation with holiday duties can often leave people without the support they need in this especially vulnerable time.
So—I ask that we all check-in, with ourselves and the people around us. Too often mental health gets left by the wayside for more immediate needs or tasks. Sometimes we’re too busy, or it is hard to acknowledge our feelings. But we should never be afraid to reach out for support. Mental health is a priority, and we must not forget its importance around this time of the year.
Samantha Leveston is originally from Connecticut and graduated with a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Vermont. Samantha is currently an AVODAH corps member in Washington D.C., placed with Housing Unlimited Inc, a non-profit in Montgomery County, Maryland that provides affordable housing for people with psychiatric disabilities.