Suicide is still the tenth leading cause of death and the rate of suicide in 2016 increased by 1.2 percent. In 2015, the last year the CDC released mortality data, there were 44,193 suicide deaths; in 2016 there were 44,965, an increase of 772 additional deaths.
While the average number of suicides per day are the lowest throughout the months of November and December, the number begins to climb again in January, February, and March – peeking throughout the spring each year. The holiday season tends to bring with it a contagious joy and celebration, typically including family, friends, and happy gatherings. However, it is also a season of stress, anxiety, loneliness, heartache, and disappointment. When you mix these feelings with someone living with depression, it can possibly trigger a chain reaction that ends in a devastating outcome. Harvard professor of psychology Matthew Nock cited a study published in JAMA Psychiatry that found that as hours of sunlight increased, so did the risk of suicide. The authors hypothesize that sunlight could boost energy and motivation, giving people who are depressed the ability to take action and make a suicide attempt.
When someone is depressed, they often withdraw and self-isolate. However, during the holidays, there is an emphasis on spending time with family and friends, which can be particularly difficult when you do not feel that you are truly connected to these people. This pertains to many types of depression, including: clinical depression, seasonal affective disorder, or bipolar disorder.
People with depression tend to have a negative view of themselves and their lives, this is true ever when they know:
- No one has a perfect life.
- Social media is not an accurate account of true life.
It is important for those living with a mental health condition to take extreme care of their own needs. If you or a loved one has a mental illness, please work closely with a trusted doctor and therapist regularly, especially during the holidays. Begin a journal of your daily feelings, as it is easy to forget your exact emotions from day to day.
Beating the Holiday Blues
Unlike chronic depression, seasonal depression does not linger long after the holidays or winter months, but it can still cause you to feel the same symptoms as someone who lives with it every day. A lot of seasonal factors can trigger the holiday blues such as: less sunlight, changes in your diet or routine, alcohol, over-commercialization, or the inability to be with friends or family – or worse, being forced into gatherings with people who do not make you feel happy.
Signs you may have the “Holiday Blues”:
- crying spells
- Mood swings
- trouble concentrating
- body aches
- loss of sex drive
- decreased activity level
- overeating (especially of carbohydrates)
- weight gain.
How to help yourself:
- Find increased social support during this time of year. Counseling or support groups can also be beneficial.
- In addition to being an important step in preventing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, regular exposure to light that is bright, particularly fluorescent lights, significantly improves depression in people with SAD during the fall and winter.
- Setting realistic goals and expectations, reaching out to friends, sharing tasks with family members, finding inexpensive ways to enjoy yourself, and helping others are all ways to help beat holiday stress.
- Including proper supplements daily, along side of a healthy diet and exercise can improve your mood and lesson your symptoms.
- Make realistic expectations for the holiday season.
- Set realistic goals for yourself.
- Pace yourself. Do not take on more responsibilities than you can handle.
- Make a list and prioritize the important activities. This can help make holiday tasks more manageable.
- Be realistic about what you can and cannot do.
- Do not put all your energy into just one day (for example, Thanksgiving Day, New Year’s Eve). The holiday cheer can be spread from one holiday event to the next.
- Live “in the moment” and enjoy the present.
- Look to the future with optimism.
- Don’t set yourself up for disappointment and sadness by comparing today with the “good old days” of the past.
- If you are lonely, try volunteering some of your time to help others.
- Find holiday activities that are free, such as looking at holiday decorations, going window shopping without buying, and watching the winter weather, whether it’s a snowflake or a raindrop.
- Limit your consumption of alcohol, since excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression.
- Try something new. Celebrate the holidays in a new way.
- Spend time with supportive and caring people.
- Reach out and make new friends.
- Make time to contact a long lost friend or relative and spread some holiday cheer.
- Make time for yourself!
- Let others share the responsibilities of holiday tasks.
- Keep track of your holiday spending. Overspending can lead to depression when the bills arrive after the holidays are over. Extra bills with little budget to pay them can lead to further stress and depression.
If you are thinking about suicide, or if you are worries about someone else, please get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255