Depression can mar holiday season

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 6, 2000

ERIK SANZENBACH / L’Observateur / December 6, 2000

LAPLACE – For most people, the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays are times of getting together with loved ones and enjoying good company, food and peace.

However, for thousands of other people, the holidays are times of depression, dread and thoughts of suicide.

The Louisiana State Coroner’s Association said suicide is now the eighth leading cause of death in the United States, and suicide deaths tend to be more frequent in December and January, coinciding with family holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Marilyn Shraberg, a social worker and director of the Via Link Copeline Suicide Prevention Helpline, reminds us not everybody looks forward to the holidays, and for some the Christmas season can be a time of great stress.

“Some people find the excitement of the holidays overwhelming,” said Shraberg. “They find their lives wanting, especially people who have suffereda great loss. The holidays tend to make them remember the good times anda lot of time depression results.”Normal joyous times can be filled with sadness for people who are experiencing adverse life experiences such as loss of a loved one, divorce, substance abuse, etc. These problems may seem so overwhelming to aperson that suicide seems like the only way out.

Other factors involved with the holiday blues can be fatigue, unrealistic expectation, over-commercialization and the inability to be with one’s family.

Increased demand of one’s time for shopping, decorating, family reunions and numerous parties can also cause some people to retreat into a shell of depression from which some may not recover.

Linda Croce, director of the River Parishes Mental Health Clinic in LaPlace, passed along some tips on how to keep oneself from getting a case of the holiday blues, including:

Keep expectations for the holiday season manageable by not trying to make it “the best ever.” Set realistic goals.

Remember that the holiday season does not automatically banish reasons for feeling sad and lonely. These are normal feelings and should not bepushed away.

Let go of the past and don’t be disappointed if your holidays are not like they used to be.

Do something for someone else. Try volunteering to help out others.

Enjoy holiday activities that are free such as driving around looking at holiday decorations. Go window shopping without buying anything.

Do not drink too much. Alcohol is a depressant and will only make you feelsadder.

Don’t be afraid to try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a differentway.

Spend time with people who are supportive and who care about you. Contact someone with whom you have lost touch.

Find time for yourself. Don’t spend all your time providing activities foryour family and friends.

People who have a tendency toward suicide tend to get worse during the holidays. There is no typical suicide victim. Thoughts of suicide can affectpeople of all ages and all classes. If you think that a friend or loved one isthinking about suicide, here are some warning signs to look for:

Talks about committing suicide.

Has trouble eating or sleeping.

Experiences extreme changes in behavior.

Withdraws from friends and/or social activities.

Loses interests in hobbies, work, school, etc.

Prepares for death by making out a will or final arrangements.

Gives away prized possessions.

Has attempted suicide before.

Takes unnecessary risks.

Has had recent severe losses.

Is preoccupied with death and dying.

Loses interest in their personal appearance.

Increases in their use of drugs or alcohol.

If you are a person who gets depressed during the holidays and thinks that suicide may be the answer, here are some of the thoughts and feelings to be aware of:

Not being able to stop the pain.

Can’t think clearly.

Can’t make decisions.

Can’t see any way out.

Can’t sleep, can’t work.

Can’t get out of a depression.

Can’t make the sadness go away.

Can’t see the future without pain.

Can’t see yourself as worthwhile.

Can’t get someone’s attention.

Can’t seem to get control.

If you know someone you suspect is suicidal or if you think you are suicidal, professional therapists such as Croce and Shraberg say to go get help immediately.

If you are worried about someone, be direct with the person and talk openly about suicide. Be willing to listen and allow the person to express theirfeelings.

Be non-judgmental and don’t debate about whether suicide is right or wrong.

Do not lecture the person.

Be supportive and be available for the person and don’t express shock because this will put distance between the two of you.

Above all, get some professional help.

Visit a community mental health unit, or make an appointment with a private therapist or counselor. If you are a student, go see the school counselor orthe school psychologist. Talk to the family physician, or go see your priest,minister or rabbi. Call up a suicide prevention phone line.In the River Parishes there is The Copeline, a United Way agency that has trained counselors to talk to you 24 hours a day, seven days a week. TheCopeline can be reached at 1-800-749-2673. Also, the Baton Rouge CrisisIntervention Center Inc. has a phone line called The Phone, 1-800-924-3900.The Phone is also open 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. Finally, in St. Johnthe Baptist Parish, the River Parishes Mental Health Clinic can be reached in emergencies at 652-8444 during office hours or 1-800-535-3694 after- hours and on weekends and holidays.

For those of you that have family or friends that have committed suicide, the Copeline sponsors a Survivors of Suicide Support Group that meets every second Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. There is no fee for attending.Call 1-800-749-2673 for more information and where the groups meet.

Shraberg reminds everybody there are plenty of free programs in the community to help with thoughts of suicide and depression.

Shraberg said, “The most significant cause of completed suicides is untreated depression.”The worse thing to do is to ignore the feelings and do nothing.

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