Struggling during the holidays |

Struggling during the holidays

Depression can cast shadow over holidays for those with mental illness

Bridget Manley

The winter holidays may elicit warm memories for some, but for others, the effect is just the opposite.

The risk of depression is higher during the holiday season, local specialists said, especially for people who suffer from depression or mental illness.

Christmas and Thanksgiving "are the two most difficult days where we will see depression and symptoms of depression at their highest," said Gary Gurney, a licensed professional counselor with Yampa Valley Psychotherapists.

When asked if she'd noticed this trend, Ronna Autrey replied, "Absolutely."

Autrey, who is the director of Reaching Everyone Preventing Suicide in Moffat and Routt counties, couldn't provide statistics on how many more people requested REPS services during the holiday season, but she said the demand does go up.

"I feel that the need for services are … heightened during the holiday season," she said. "I get more calls from families worried about their loved ones" and looking for ways to help them.

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Many factors contribute to depression during this season, she said, including an increase in holiday parties and interactions with family. The latter can be particularly stressful if family members are "just frustrated with the situation and aren't handling it correctly, so the person with that disease is just dreading being with their family and being judged and possibly criticized," she said.

Even the weather can contribute to the problem. Gray skies, cold weather and a lack of sunshine can have a negative impact on some people's mental health, Autrey said.

For his part, Gurney believes loneliness has a lot to do with the issue.

"We live in a transient society now," he said. "People have moved to areas where they don't have a lot of family support."

People with underlying conditions, like depression, can struggle during the holidays, but so too can others.

"People who have lost loved ones, especially in the past year or so, they're more prone because it's kind of that first anniversary" without that family member, he said.

The recession can compound the issue, he said, especially for people who can't provide for their families and feel the pressure to buy Christmas gifts.

Gurney normally doesn't see his patient numbers increase during the holidays, he said, but there's a reason for that. People who suffer from depression often isolate themselves and may not seek help.

"They're not the type of people that you're going to see knocking on my door," Gurney said, adding that they sometimes don't have the financial means to pay for services.

Ways to get help

For people who are struggling emotionally during the holidays, local events and services can help.

Toys for Tots and food basket programs can ease some of the holiday financial burden, Gurney said, and free meals provided by area churches, along with local events, can give residents an opportunity to be around other people.

Avoiding self-isolation, he stressed, is key.

"Be around other people," Gurney said. "Do not isolate."

Getting outside for a walk helps, Autrey said, as does learning to set limits and "learning to say 'no' to certain things if they're just on circuit overload and can't do another holiday party or they just know it's going to be disastrous for them," she said.

She added, "That's OK as long as they're not totally shutting themselves off from society."

Autrey added that residents who need help or are concerned about a family member can call her at 846-8182. Residents who are concerned about a friend or family member and cannot reach them can call 911 and request a wellness check, she added.

A crisis line also is available at any time of day for residents who feel depressed or suicidal. Call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.

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Warning signs of depression and suicide

Changes in activity or energy level such as:

• Decreased energy

• Fatigue

• Lethargy

• Diminished activity

• Insomnia or hypersomnia

• Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

• Social withdrawal

Physical changes:

• Unexpected aches and pains

• Weight loss or gain

• Decreased or increased appetite

• Psychomotor agitation or retardation

Emotional pain:

• Prolonged sadness

• Unexplained, uncontrollable crying

• Feelings of guilt

• Feelings of worthlessness

• Loss of self-esteem

• Despair

• Hopelessness/helplessness

Difficult moods:

• Irritability

• Anger

• Worry/anxiety

• Pessimism

• Indifference

• Self-critical

Changes in thought patterns:

• Inability to concentrate

• Indecision

• Problems with memory

• Disorganized

Preoccupation with death:

• Thoughts of death

• Suicidal ideation

• Feeling dead or detached

Need help?

• Those who are feeling depressed or suicidal can call 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK for help any time of day.

• Residents also can get support at the Depression and Bipolar Support Group, which meets from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday at The Memorial Hospital, 750 Hospital Loop.

The group is free and open to anyone.

For more information, call Sharlene Battaglia at 620-4478.

• The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association hosts its annual Celebration of Life Tree event Dec. 15 at the Craig VNA, 745 Russell St. Starting at 4:30 p.m., residents can decorate an ornament in memory of a loved one they have lost. A short reading takes place at 5:15 p.m., and attendees are invited to share the story of their loved ones, if they so choose. Refreshments will be provided.

Call Sandy Beran at 871-7682 for more information.

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