This holiday season, be mindful of your mental health

For most people, the holidays are full of laughter and cheer, but not everyone feels cheerful this time of year. From busy social calendars, work deadlines, the loss of a loved one or sunless winter days, there are a variety of reasons why people may not be cheerful at the end of the year.

“We’re coming out of a period of incredible overlapping societal crisis, and some people still haven’t recovered economically, socially or spiritually to a large extent from the impact of covid,” said Christopher Decker, vice president of behavioral health at Evergreen Health. “We have this bombardment of representation from the media that we’re supposed to be blissfully happy this season, and it can be a combination of that and the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves and what others put on us that are just out of reach for most people.”

According to the American Psychological Association, over 40 percent of respondents felt increased levels of stress, depression and anxiety during the holiday season. Another study conducted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness found that people living with mental illness feel their symptoms worsen around the holidays.

“Let someone know you’re going through a tough time and give them permission to ask how you’re doing and check up on you. It’s also good not to suffer alone and not to keep the pain quiet, it usually doesn’t get better on its own without help,” Decker said.

Decker recommends that people reexamine their usual habits and find a way to give up constant exposure to rest. Whether it’s exercising, going out with a friend, or cooking a meal you enjoy, it’s important to take a break or seek professional help when needed. He also noted the classic signs to look for when identifying potential mental or behavioral health conditions such as: changes in sleeping and eating patterns over an extended period of time, persistent mood swings, feelings of hopelessness, lack of interest in hobbies or activities and often talking or thinking about death.

It has become all too common to hear of increasing suicide rates among people dealing with mental and behavioral illnesses. Although there is still a lot of stigma surrounding suicide, it is common for people who have experienced the loss of a loved one to blame themselves or expect that they should have seen the signs. Also, those affected will often not seek help for fear of dishonoring their loved one’s memory.

Asked about the state of mental health in Buffalo, Decker said the city largely mirrors the rest of the nation when it comes to issues stemming from covid, including racial and social disparities. He added that demand for mental health services has skyrocketed and most providers in the area are struggling to keep up with the demand. Evergreen Health has a long history of providing primary, supportive and behavioral health services to marginalized communities, and they recently announced the expansion of their mental health programs to accommodate the increase seen in the communities in which they specialize.

“Our mental health program is unique in that we serve many people who identify as sexual or gender minorities,” Decker said. “We’re very fortunate to be able to physically expand the clinical space and add room for more staff and increase our capacity to serve another 400 or 500 people each year, which will really make a difference to the populations that Evergreen specializes in.”

As 2023 approaches the horizon, Decker hopes people will make a commitment to take care of their mental health like any other healthy habit, and not be afraid to check in on others to see how they’re doing.

“The biggest thing we can do as people who care about each other is to not be afraid and ask the person ‘how are you.’ Sometimes we are afraid of offending people or we think that it is none of our business. I’m just of the opinion that I’d rather offend you than lose you,” Decker said.

If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental or behavioral health emergency, see below for some resources to help you through difficult times.

24-hour crisis hotline: 716-834-3131

24 Hour Addiction Hotline: 716-831-7007

Suicide and Crisis Line: Call or text 988

More from Evergreen Health

Mental health services at Evergreen are expanding

Navigating the holiday spirit can be difficult when you’re queer

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