Coping with mental illness or loss during holiday season

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MONROE, La. (AP) — For people dealing with mental illness or loss, the holidays can bring stress and loneliness rather than comfort and joy.

People need to be aware of that, counselors and psychiatrists say.

"Just because it's the holiday doesn't mean that people don't feel stressed and depressed," said Dr. Beatrice Tatem of Wellness Initiatives in Monroe. "I think it's real important for us to not ignore that."

Holidays can emphasize what's missing from our lives, she said.

"We tend to think that the holiday is what we see on TV or in the movies, that image of a big tree and a lot of money, gift-buying, food and family," she said. "For a lot of people, it's not like that."

Fred Fulton, a local counselor, said, "It's difficult for people ... suffering from depression to be in the middle of the season that celebrates family, togetherness, joy and merriment," he said. "It just makes their situation much more acute and severe."

Tatem said she recommends creativity: starting your own traditions, figuring out what the holiday means to you and sticking to that.

"This time of the year, there's a lot of community organizations doing things. Seek some of those things out. Go to social events and go to some community events where there's other people. Reach out and find out what's going on," she said.

The holidays also are hard for people coping with grief and loss, said Premier Hospice administrator Chris Dixon said.

"I often think of it as grandpa carving the turkey and now we have to deal with who's going to have to carve the turkey," he said.

Creating new traditions rather than canceling plans, is very helpful for grieving individuals, he said.

"The holidays are still going to take place regardless of their temptation to avoid it," Dixon said. "It's part of the coping mechanism to get back in that routine and surround themselves with family. Perhaps that allows them to create new traditions."

Tatem said she has clients that meet with their book club for Christmas and that meeting with regular groups can be helpful.

"The groups that we take part in throughout the year can be a group that you can get together with during the holiday," she said. "A lot of time what's happening throughout the year is also happening during the holidays, you're not just aware of it.

"It's not necessarily on Christmas Day. That's another trap that people fall into that it has to be done a certain day, a certain way and a certain time. The holiday is not necessarily perfect."

Fulton said breaking out of your comfort zone can really help.

"Those people that don't have family, there are churches, social organizations that are available for them that will help fill some of that sense of loneliness in their lives" he said. "(Don't) isolate at this time. Forcing yourself to step outside of your boundaries is a good thing."

No matter what you're dealing with, Fulton said it's important to remember the holidays are temporary.

"The season accentuates what we feel," he said. "There's an end to the intensity of it. There's light at the end of the tunnel. (Don't) see things in absolute terms, but see them in the moment and where they are now. There is light ahead."


Information from: The News-Star,

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