This time of year creates different reactions in people. Most of us are blessed to have family and friends with whom to share the holidays, and are able to celebrate all the things for which we are thankful. It is a joyful time: We travel to be with people we miss and share traditions of food, song, decorations, lights, games and warm interactions. To most of us, it is a festival for the senses and a time we look forward to every year.
Unfortunately, not all people will feel that way. Some are alone, depressed, fearful and in need. For them, the holidays bring thoughts of what their lives lack, which can make their emotional distress worse. Travel challenges can trigger panic disorders and destabilize bipolar disorders. Eating disorders can be triggered by holiday foods and the pressure to indulge in them. Alcohol is free-flowing in some settings, and those challenged with addiction have additional pressure with which to contend. People may feel forced to be with individuals they may avoid the rest of the year, and old issues can arise, increasing the stress. Expectations run high, and disillusionment fuels conflicts. Even under the best of circumstances, the holidays are stressful, and stress can precipitate underlying depression and anxiety.
Some surveys indicate that not only do many people suffer from depression during the holidays, some experience distress to the extent that they cannot partake in the season’s activities at all, increasing their sense of isolation and exacerbating existing mental illness. At worst, the depression is severe enough to generate feelings of hopelessness and thoughts of suicide.
The positive news is that support from loved ones and treatment by mental healthcare professionals can help individuals cope with depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses, both during the holidays and when the regular routine resumes.
As you count your blessings this holiday season, consider giving to non-profit organizations that support those with mental health issues in gratitude for the health your family enjoys or maybe the help these organizations provide for someone you care about.
Have a safe, happy and blessed holiday season!
Editor’s note: Many wonderful non-profits treat individuals with mental illness, do research into the nature of mental illlness and help families cope with the effects of mental illness. These organizations work at the national, regional and local levels to alleviate suffering and offer hope. Many, including The Menninger Clinic and The Gathering Place, Menninger’s psychosocial clubhouse, send out year-end appeals. Others, including the National Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health America, urge their web visitors to support their work. To find other mental health non-profits in need of your support this holiday season, a quick Google search will lead you to them.