Supporting mental health for the holidays

Published 5:00 pm Friday, December 20, 2019

The songs proclaim that this is “the most wonderful time of the year” full of “yuletide cheer” and “glad tidings of comfort and joy.” And for many people, these words ring true. The holiday season usually is a fun time where fond memories are made with family and friends as they come together to celebrate.

But for others, the holidays are more difficult to get through. Some may have recently lost loved ones; others may be far away from their families due to military deployment or work. And people living with depression or anxiety may find their mental health suffering more than usual.

Every year around Christmas time, I write a column about suicide prevention because I believe it’s important to reach out to people who are suffering, even if they try to hide it or do not ask for help. We should know the warning signs to look for and how to provide support.

It’s not an easy topic to talk about, but that doesn’t mean we should brush it under the rug. Especially this time of year when society’s constant bombardment of the “be happy, be merry” message can just make things worse.

Here’s some information from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website:

“There’s no single cause for suicide. Suicide most often occurs when stressors and health issues converge to create an experience of hopelessness and despair,” reads the AFSP website’s page about risk factors and warning signs.

Often a change in behavior is a red flag that something may be wrong. Verbal warning signs can be someone saying things like they want to kill themselves, they feel hopeless, they have no reason to live, they feel like a burden to others, they feel trapped or are in unbearable pain.

Behaviors such as increased substance abuse, withdrawing from activities, isolating themselves, sleeping too much or too little, giving away prized possessions, and visiting people to say goodbye are all warnings signs to be concerned about. Additionally, people who are considering suicide may display a variety of moods including depression, anxiety, irritability, shame, anger, or sudden improvement/relief.

“Have an honest conversation. If you think someone is thinking about suicide, assume you are the only one who will reach out,” the website continues.

There are six tips they suggest to follow when reaching out. First, talk to the person in private. Listen to their story. Tell them you care about them. Ask directly if they are thinking about suicide. Encourage them to seek treatment or to contact their doctor or therapist. Avoid debating the value of life, minimizing their problems, or giving advice.

The national suicide prevention lifeline is 1-800-273-8255 and it is available at any time. There’s also a texting option available to talk to a trained crisis counselor. Simply text TALK to 741741.

Locally, we have Trillium Health Resources to connect people with the service they need. The 24-hour Access to Care line (1-877-685-2415) can direct people to local resources and providers. Trillium’s website also has a wealth of information to access.

For people who have lost loved ones to suicide, the AFSP website also shares some suggestions on how to deal with the holidays and other special occasions.

Some people feel comforted by keeping up their usual traditions, while others may find them painful to keep and prefer to start new ones. “There is no right or wrong here – just what works for you,” the website reminds us.

Other suggestions include communicating your needs in advance, taking a break if needed, traveling, volunteering, acknowledging the difficulty of the situation, and simply taking care of yourself.

My hope is that these resources can help us in any situation, whether we are grieving a loss or wondering how to reach out and provide comfort. And I hope we continue to help long after the charitable spirit of the season is over.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.