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As we deck the halls and embrace the festive spirit, it’s crucial to recognize that the holiday season can be a challenging time for many individuals. Amidst the celebrations, some may silently battle feelings of loneliness, grief, or despair. In this blog post, we shed light on the importance of suicide awareness and prevention during the holiday season, urging everyone to be a beacon of support and compassion.
The Holiday Blues
Acknowledging the reality that not everyone experiences unbridled joy during the holidays can be tough. The “Holiday Blues” is a term used to describe a temporary and often mild emotional state that some individuals experience during the holiday season. While many people associate this time of year with joy, celebration, and togetherness, others may find themselves grappling with feelings of sadness, stress, or loneliness. Several factors contribute to the phenomenon of the holiday blues, and these can vary from person to person, but these factors can include the following:
Societal Expectations: During the holiday season, there is often an overwhelming societal expectation to be joyful and festive. The omnipresent images of happy families, elaborate decorations, and the pressure to engage in excessive gift-giving can create a sense of inadequacy for those who may not align with these expectations. The discrepancy between the idealized holiday narrative and one’s personal reality can lead to feelings of isolation and discontent.
Financial Strain: The financial burden associated with holiday expenses, such as gifts, travel, and festive meals, can be a significant source of stress. For individuals facing economic challenges or struggling with limited resources, the pressure to meet these financial demands can contribute to heightened anxiety and a sense of exclusion from the holiday festivities.
Grief and Loss: For those who have experienced the loss of a loved one, the holidays can serve as a poignant reminder of the absence of that person. Grieving during a time traditionally associated with family and togetherness can intensify feelings of sadness and loneliness. Navigating holiday traditions without a cherished family member can be emotionally challenging.
Social Isolation: While the holidays are portrayed as a time for socializing and connecting with others, some individuals may find themselves isolated from friends and family. Factors such as distance, strained relationships, or a lack of social support can contribute to a sense of loneliness during a time when social connection is emphasized.
Reflecting on the Year: The conclusion of the year often prompts reflection on personal achievements, unmet goals, or challenges faced. For those who perceive the year as a period of unfulfilled expectations or missed opportunities, the holiday season can amplify a sense of disappointment and self-criticism.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): The winter season, with its shorter days and decreased exposure to sunlight, can contribute to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for some individuals. SAD is a form of depression that occurs seasonally, often peaking during the winter months. The combination of environmental factors and holiday stressors can exacerbate emotional challenges.
It’s important to note that the holiday blues are generally temporary and don’t necessarily indicate a more serious mental health condition. However, for some individuals, these feelings can be more persistent and may require additional support. Recognizing the factors contributing to the holiday blues is the first step in fostering empathy and understanding, allowing us to create a more compassionate and supportive environment for everyone during this festive season.
Recognizing Suicide Warning Signs
Recognizing the warning signs of suicide is critically important because early intervention can save lives. Understanding and identifying these signs allow for timely support and the connection of individuals at risk with appropriate mental health resources. The warning signs of suicide include but are not limited to:
- Feeling very sad or withdrawn for more than two weeks.
- Seriously trying to harm or kill oneself or making plans to do so.
- Severe out-of-control, risk-taking behaviors.
- Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason.
- Not eating, throwing up or using laxatives to lose weight, significant wight loss or weight gain.
- Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real.
- Repeatedly using drugs or alcohol.
- Drastic changes in mood, behavior, personality or sleeping habits.
- Extreme difficulty in concentrating or staying still.
- Intense worries or fears that get in the way of daily activities.
- Changes in Behavior: Watch for signs of increased social isolation, withdrawal from social activities, or a sudden disinterest in once-enjoyed activities.
- Emotional Distress: Be attentive to mood swings, expressions of hopelessness, and feelings of helplessness, as these may indicate emotional challenges.
- Verbal Cues: Take notice of direct or indirect references to suicide, expressions of a desire to die, or statements suggesting the person feels like a burden to others.
- Giving Away Possessions: Individuals contemplating self-harm may exhibit behavior such as giving away belongings or making arrangements for their possessions.
- Sudden Shifts: Pay attention to abrupt changes in emotional state, especially during the holiday season, and approach these signs with empathy and concern.
Start the Conversation
If you observe any of these warning signs in someone you know, it’s crucial to reach out, express support, and encourage them to seek professional help promptly. In times of heightened stress, your vigilance and compassion can play a significant role in providing the support someone needs to navigate through difficult emotional challenges.
Examples of how to start the conversation:
- “Tell me more about what’s happening. Maybe if I understand better, we can find a solution together.”
- “It worries me to hear you talking like this. Let’s talk to someone about it.”
- “I’ve noticed you’re (sleeping more, eating less, etc.), I’m here if you need to talk.”
- “I really want to help, what can I do to help you right now?”
- “Would you like me to go with you to a support group or meeting?”
- · “Let’s sit down together and look for places to get help. I can go with you too.”
AVOID SAYING THINGS LIKE:
- “You’ll get over it.”
- “Toughen up.”
- “You’re fine.”
Be the Listener They Need
One of the most important things you can do while trying to help another person contemplating suicide is to actively listen with empathy and without judgment. Create a safe and supportive space for them to share their feelings and thoughts. Avoid offering solutions or advice prematurely; instead, focus on understanding their perspective and emotions. By listening attentively, you convey that their feelings are valid and that you genuinely care.
- Give Your Full Attention: Eliminate distractions and focus entirely on the person. Show that you are present and available to listen.
- Be Non-Judgmental: Suspend judgment and avoid expressing shock or disbelief. This creates an environment where the person feels comfortable sharing their thoughts openly.
- Reflect and Validate: Repeat back what you hear to confirm understanding, and validate their emotions. Phrases like “It sounds like you’re feeling…” can convey empathy.
- Express Concern: Communicate your concern for their well-being and safety. Make it clear that you care about them and want to support them through their struggles.
- Encourage Professional Help: While you can provide emotional support, it’s essential to encourage the person to seek professional help. Offer to assist them in finding a mental health professional or contacting a helpline.
Remember that your role is not to be a substitute for professional intervention but to connect the person to the appropriate resources. If you believe the person is in immediate danger, do not leave them alone. Contact emergency services or a crisis hotline for immediate assistance.
As we navigate the glittering lights and festive cheer, let’s remember that compassion, understanding, and awareness are the greatest gifts we can offer during the holiday season. By shining a light on suicide awareness and prevention, we can make a positive impact in the lives of those who may be struggling. Together, let’s create a season of warmth, kindness, and support for everyone in our community.