Depression: The dark side of the holidays

Nov. 23, 2012 @ 08:00 AM

Most people have fond memories of family holiday gatherings, but some years are not as jolly.

Divorce, the death of a loved one, an empty nest or other major changes in a person's life can make holiday gatherings painful. Those feelings are normal and should be acknowledged instead of pushed away, said Kara Kindley, the center director of Union County's Daymark Recovery Services.

Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas are typically celebrated with family. When the family unit changes, it can be unsettling for some, Kindley said. The feeling of loss can create sadness, loneliness or depression.

"Any anniversary or significant holiday can be a trigger," Kindley said. "It could be the anniversary of an event, like a birth or a marriage, there can be several triggers throughout the year. Or it can be a time like Thanksgiving and Christmas when families typically gather."

But people experiencing this sadness should not ignore it.

"We strongly encourage people not to," Kindley said. "This sadness is normal. It doesn't mean there's anything wrong with you when you can't just shake it off."

Be mindful of your feelings and be kind to yourself when dealing with them instead of asking what is wrong with you, she said. An exercise is to talk to someone about your feelings, but Kindley warned that you should be careful choosing your listener.

"Be thoughtful about who you share with," she said. "If it is a family member. it's important to remember that you might not be the only one feeling this way."

Another way to cope is to set a place at the dinner table, make a toast or hang a Christmas tree ornament to honor the person missing that year. Discuss this with other family members beforehand to make sure they are comfortable with it, Kindley said.

"You may decide to skip the usual celebrations and decide this year you need to take a trip to someplace you've never been or a cruise," Kindley said. "Sometimes a distraction can be good."

Also be aware when the feelings stop being sadness and become something more serious.

"If they notice an interference in their sleep patterns or they notice a significant change in their appetite, it could be signs that they're depressed," she said.

Depression is a real medical condition. Those who suffer from it have problems sleeping. They find no enjoyment in anything they used to love. They become withdrawn, stay at home more and may abuse drugs or alcohol. They can start thinking their lives are not fulfilling without a recently dead spouse or parent. Sometimes, they even begin thinking about suicide to be with a person in the afterlife.

"If you're having passive thoughts about hurting yourself, that is definitely not something you should ignore," Kindley said. "Talk to a friend about it. Or call a crisis hotline. The important thing is to get help as soon as possible."

If a friend of relative begins talking about suicide, even half-jokingly, it can be a sign of depression they are trying to hide, she said. Talk to them about their feelings out of compassionate concern. If you are experiencing the same feelings of loss over a tragedy, share how you feel. Sometimes it can be comforting to know they are not the only one who is sad.

Daymark Recovery Center's crisis services can help people who feel the holidays are overwhelming. Call them during business hours at 704-296-6200 or after-hours at 800-939-5911.