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Holiday Depression? There's Help Out There

Miami Herald
A holiday display at Aventura Mall.

'Tis the season to be jolly, but for many the challenge is just getting through the holidays while dealing with depression and elevated stress levels. One mental health expert says there are ways to cope.

“The holidays are happy times for many of us or all of us, probably; however, we sometimes overload ourselves with stuff. And that can trigger stress and can trigger depression,” said Dr. David Josephs, Clinical Director at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola.

Something to look out for, he says, is behavior outside one’s normal routine.

“We don’t think as well when we’re stressed; the things that we used to be able to figure out pretty quickly — issues with our kids — we’re just not as efficient,” Josephs said. “We snap, we’re more angry, more irritable. And it’s interesting that people notice that in us before we notice it in ourselves.”

Along with the spiritual side to Christmas, there is the materialistic. One source for stress can be economic through the exchange of gifts. Some view this as a competition that absolutely has to be won to impress friends, loved ones and neighbors. Josephs says it’s kind of a holiday expectation.

“It’s one of the big stresses that we’ve all had at Christmas time or at holiday times, is spending more than we have,” said Josephs. “Keeping up with the Joneses or believing we have to give monetary stuff, that puts us in some jeopardies [and is] problematic.”

Some are coping with the passing of a loved one since last Christmas, or since this holiday season began. The grieving, says Joseph, can be exacerbated when it conflicts with normal celebrations.

“Grieving is a process; we remember the person that we love, and we’re grieving,” said Josephs. “I think sometimes people forget that grieving is natural; actually, crying is natural. That’s not depression; that’s just grieving, and the holidays trigger our sense of that. If that persists, then that can become depression.”

Two obvious red flags warning of problems during the holidays are the use — or the increased usage — of alcohol and drugs.

“Drug and alcohol, risky behavior — we do things that we normally wouldn’t do. So all of these are red flags,” Josephs said.

Whatever bad feelings one is experiencing this holiday season, there is help available in a number of forms. Josephs says the first move is to have a talk with yourself and acknowledge reality. Stuff, he says, doesn’t get better by pretending it’s not there.

“The second [move] would be find somebody you trust and depend on to say, ‘Listen, I just don’t think I’m myself,’” said Josephs. “And sometimes that might be all that’s needed. If the feelings persist then there may need to be some professional help, or your clergy – who often function in management of these issues.”

One of the roadblocks to seeking help is the stigma that’s attached to mental health treatment. That stigma exists, says Joseph, because popular thought is that such issues are different from regular health issues.

“Mental health issues are brain issues, alright? We all have a brain,” said Josephs. “I think that once we recognize that depression, sadness, even some of the other symptoms that come from trauma or long-term issues, is simply brain stuff that’s manageable, treatable, and addressable.”

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