For many, the holidays are full of twinkling lights, warm fires, and more time with family. However, for others the holidays will be a reminder of lost loved ones, financial stress, job loss, and fears about the future. According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, 64% of people with mental illness report that the holidays make their conditions worse. Depression often goes unnoticed during the holidays due to the hustle and bustle of the season; being aware of your loved one’s behavior during this time is important. Here are signs that are often overlooked or missed during the holiday season.
1. Your loved one seems more withdrawn or uninterested than usual. With depression, you’re looking for a difference in behavior. For example, if your loved one normally enjoys family activities or certain hobbies and suddenly doesn’t want to participate.
How to help: Pull them aside when you’re alone and offer to help by listening to their feelings. Seeking a mental health counselor earlier in the process is significantly helpful in minimizing the effects of depression.
2. Your loved one is drinking or eating more than normal. When people are feeling depressed, they often turn to drinking and/or eating to dull the sadness and anxiety. This can make their depression more intense.
How to help: Find a quiet time and talk to them about it. Simply showing that you noticed can make them feel less alone or isolated. Offer to assist them get help; AA and AL-Anon both offer free support groups that you both can attend.
3. Your loved one is sleeping more than normal. The holidays are a busy time, and everyone seems more cheerful. Depression makes people want to withdraw and go to bed to escape the merriment or to avoid pretending that they are happy. This is especially true for someone that has lost a job or loved one.
How to help: Check on them and offer them a safe space to talk about their feelings instead of trying to bury them or sleep them away. Griefshare.org has a wonderful online support group for various kinds of grief.
4. Your partner is more irritable than usual. When someone is suffering from depression or anxiety, they begin feeling more easily frustrated and irritable.
How to help: Don’t take their lashing out personally. Tell them you notice they are more irritable and ask them if you can help them get professional guidance.
5. Your loved one is avoiding making future plans. When people are depressed, they begin avoiding talk of the future. They feel as though they cannot go on and are less inclined to make future plans that seem hopeless or irrelevant. For many, they have lost hope.
How to help: Ask them (without judgement) if they are thinking about hurting themselves or someone else. It is a myth that asking this question will encourage someone to consider or follow-through with suicide. If they are feeling suicidal, it is scary for you AND them. Calling a crisis line is an act of love, and there is no shame in making the call. Contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Feelings make us human; numbing or denying them is not practicing good mental health. However, sometimes those feelings hurt so badly, people feel as though they cannot bear it. Having someone remind them that they are loved and worthy of love can motivate them to seek help. Depression is treatable; don’t let temporary feelings define who you are or the life of your loved one.