The holiday season isn’t the happiest time of year for many people. Stress around family, finances and the weight of losing a loved one can all take a toll on people during this season.
Finding this period painful or difficult isn’t unusual, says Gillian Mandich, a health and happiness researcher and advocate.
“Our schedules tend to be more full, which can be very overwhelming and can drain our energy,” she told hosts on Global News’ The Morning Show.
While it’s not uncommon to have less energy and have that impact your mood during the holidays, it’s important to watch out for signs of serious depression, she said.
Signs to look out for include if a person is isolating themselves, extremely overwhelmed, have challenges with work or family or have been through a major trauma, she added.
“Those can be signals that maybe we need to reach our or help somebody,” Mandich said.
Why the holidays can lead to depression
While the holidays may not directly create mental health issues, they can exacerbate illnesses like depression and anxiety, Thomas Ungar, chief of psychiatry at North York General Hospital in Toronto, said in a previous Global News report.
“People who have real ongoing mental health problems have it year-round,” he explained. But the holidays can add to the condition or push them “over the edge,” he said.
Trying to make all your relatives happy, the pressure of high expectations at holiday events and family dynamics can make things worse, he added.
Grief can also cause many to want to avoid this time of year, as it can bring up more emotions over not spending the holidays with a family member who is no longer there.
“If you are recently bereaved, the holidays can be especially painful,” Lesli Musicar, a registered psychotherapist from Toronto, said in a previous Global News story.
“This is when it is important not to be alone.”
She recommends sharing grief with family members or friends who share your loss or have had one of their own.
“Sometimes, being able to show your grief allows others to do the same. And it generally feels better to let it out than to hold it in and pretend it isn’t there,” she said.
How to get help during the holidays
Knowing someone is there to listen when you are dealing with stress or mental health issues during the holidays can make a difference, Mandich explained.
Reach out to the person you believe is suffering but don’t be surprised if they might not want to talk, she said.
“They know you’re a phone call away,” she said. “But if they do want to talk, focus on listening.
“You don’t want someone to fix you or tell you what to do; they want you to listen in a safe, non-judgmental space.”
Being overly positive or saying platitudes or cliches about how this time of year is supposed to be “happy” can make things worse, she said, adding that it’s important to encourage them to seek outside help if they need it and validate their feelings.
Ungar recommends calling a crisis line, seeking a health professional like a family doctor or visiting an emergency room if you are feeling truly overwhelmed or have mental illness get worse during the holidays.
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.
The Kids Help Phone also has two student-specific helplines in Ontario and Nova Scotia: Good2Talk Ontario (1-866-925-5454) and Good2Talk Nova Scotia (1-833-292-3698).
— With files from Global News reporters Arti Patel and Andrew Russell