By Mike Vizena
While the holidays are supposed to be a time filled with ‘comfort and joy,’ 90 percent of Americans actually report feelings of stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression.
Sadness or depression varies from person to person, but during the holidays they both can be reactions to the stresses and demands of the season. For many, it can be due to fatigue, unrealistic expectations, financial frustration, over commercialization, or not having the opportunity to spend time with family and friends. Others may feel depressed around the winter time due to a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which occurs as the days grow shorter in the fall and winter.
Although many believe suicides occur more frequently during the holiday season, it is actually a perpetuated myth. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics reports that the month of December marks the lowest suicide rate, with rates actually highest in the spring and fall. In reality, this unfortunate holiday myth supports misinformation about suicide that can sometimes hinder prevention efforts.
But one fact remains – depression continues to be the biggest risk factor associated with suicide. Individuals experiencing depression become more discouraged the deeper depression gets and the longer it goes on. Whether one’s depression is associated with the holiday season or not, suicide and suicidal thinking are more widespread than typically believed. Each year in the U.S. alone, more than 36,000 people take their own lives, and nearly 400,000 people attempt suicides. Unfortunately, it can be hard to identify suicidal thinking in a loved one, but the following warning signs may help to identify those who are at risk.
- Talk about suicide– If someone you know talks about self-harm or not wanting to live, take it seriously. Don’t leave this person alone and let them know you’re going to get help.
- Bipolar disorder– The symptoms of bipolar disorder – a condition in which bouts of depression are interspersed with periods of mania – often drive people to consider suicide.
- Alcohol or drug use– Drug use and excessive alcohol use are often warning signs for suicide. In addition, alcoholism is a major contributor to suicide, with 1 in 3 suicides attributed to alcoholism.
- Anxiety – About half of those who are depressed have “agitated depression” with anxiety being a main symptom. Those who are agitated are more at risk for suicide because anxiety is typically uncomfortable.
- Health problems– According to the National Institute of Mental Health, individuals 65 and older are at the highest risk for depression and suicide. While depression isn’t a normal part of aging, problems with vision or hearing, chronic health conditions, and a loss of independence can increase the risk.
Though many myths about depression and suicide exist, one fact is for sure – treatment helps to decrease the risk of suicide. Successful treatment of an underlying psychiatric disorder is important and can help to reduce suicidal thoughts, especially among older adults. When depression is successfully treated, thoughts of suicide usually decline. In addition, family members and friends can play a significant role in helping prevent suicide, as social support is linked to helping lower the risk of suicide. Counseling and support groups are another way to relieve some of the burdens of stress or sadness that come along with the holiday season.
For more information regarding suicide awareness and prevention, visit the National Institute of Mental Health at www.nimh.nih.gov. In addition, the Michigan Association of Community Mental Health Boards (MACMHB) and community mental health facilities across the state can provide individuals with resources and support relating to stress, depression and suicide.
If you are in a crisis or know of an individual that is in need of help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK. The confidential service is available to anyone, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.