While most of us are decorating Christmas trees, hitting the Black Friday sales and “decking the halls,” many of those around us are struggling with depression. The statistics on depression are no secret: an estimated 16 million U.S. adults had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. 10.4 million of those were severely impaired because of their depression. (NIMH, 2012) Yet, depression, which can present in a variety of ways (e.g., anger, irritability, anxiety, general malaise and sadness), remains one of the most under-diagnosed illnesses in the United States.
In the African American community, depression is often misdiagnosed, and, due to cultural biases against seeking therapeutic help, is often left untreated, leading to physical manifestations such as headaches, digestive problems, exhaustion, fatigue, and muscle aches and joint pain. Untreated depression can also seriously impact one’s ability to function optimally at work and in relationships.
What many of us forget while we are being jolly is that the holiday season is a tremendously difficult time for many people. In addition to the daily stressors of decorating, cooking, hosting out of town guests, and finding the perfect gift, there are also feelings of lack, insufficiency, grief, and loss. At a time when the media bombards us with reports of excessive shopping and spending, people without the means to take part in this perennial ritual may feel woefully inadequate and become stressed, anxious and depressed about their inability to shower their friends and family in the way that society celebrates.
Others of those around us are particularly stricken with the absence of loved ones. Regardless of when the loss took place, the seemingly endless family gatherings this time of year can wreak havoc on emotional stability. Still others in our community are unhappy about celebrating without a “significant other” to kiss under the mistletoe or at the stroke of midnight on the eve of a new year. Even those that are usually content may struggle with their emotions this time of year.
There is much we can do to support those around us during this simultaneously celebratory and depressive time of year:
- Recognize and gently acknowledge the existence of depression in your loved ones; do not ignore the signs or be dismissive.
- Encourage them to seek help. This can be difficult; many people in our society view depression – and other mental illness- very negatively. This stigma prevents people from seeking out the mental health services and supports they need to begin their recovery process.
- Create opportunities for those struggling with depression – or at risk of doing so – to get out of isolation, to socialize, and create new holiday memories with YOUR friends and family, at your church, social club or other organization sensitive to the needs of those who may be hurting this time of year.
Community-based organizations like New Center Community Services are available for those seeking help. We serve individuals who are experiencing both chronic (long-term, repeated episodes) and acute (short-term) emotional disturbances including stress, anxiety and depression, all of which can impair the ability to lead healthy and productive lives. We provide a range of programs and services including counseling, stress management, medication evaluations, and socialization programs, which promote recovery focused self-management services.
Yes, eat, drink and be merry during this festive season! AND be aware of those around you who might be struggling and need a helping hand.
Joy D. Calloway, MBA, MHSA
President and CEO
New Center Community Services