Saturday, November 1, 2014

Overcoming the Darkness of Depression During the Holidays & Beyond

It is truly amazing that we are literally at the front door of the holiday season. It seems as if summer was here just yesterday, confirming the old adage, “time really flies.” Although many of you view the holiday season as a time of joy, excitement, love, sharing, and celebration, for many of your partners, friends, family members, loved ones, and even possibly for you, the holiday season is a difficult time of the year. It is a time when you remember things you would like to forget; your loss of loved ones, your sense of loneliness, your negative financial situation, your unemployment, your underemployment, doors that have closed in your life, other losses you have experienced, your prevailing sense of sadness, your depression, and/or your seeming sense of helplessness, and hopelessness.  

For many of you, the holiday season seems to exacerbate your already emotionally fragile state of mind and emotions. Not only are you having even more difficulty during this time of year in dealing with the above difficulties, you are also faced with the issue of losing yourself. This los of self, as related to depression causes major disruptions in your ability to celebrate and experience joy, happiness, and wholeness in your life, especially during the holiday season. While faced with the many ills that seem out of your control, your depression seems to spiral during the holidays, making it difficult for you to cope. However, there is a way out, and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just as the holidays come and go, so will the adversities you are facing!

Depression is defined as …feelings of a sense of despondency and dejection. Depression is a mood disorder. And believe me, you are NOT the only one suffering from depression! According to a 2003 study by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence, 1 in 4 women will require treatment for depression, compared to 1in 10 men. Men are less likely to seek professional help for their depression.

Often, we ignore the symptoms of depression; the sadness, the crying spells, the loss of interest in things that brought you pleasure in the past, increased stress, anxiety, isolation, agitation, insomnia or excessive sleeping, lack of motivation, exhaustion, anger, mood swings, excessive weight gain or excessive weight loss, unpredictable behaviors, forgetfulness, low self-esteem, flat affect, addictive behaviors, you see no way out, a sense of helplessness and/or helplessness, being in a dark space/hole that you don’t seem to get out of, suicidal thoughts/plan, increased physical pain in different areas of your body, etc.  Now, while you might not have all of these symptoms, if you have many of these symptoms more days than you don’t have them, you are probably suffering from depression. Okay, I know; many of these symptoms can also be attributed to many physical ills. This is most certainly true and one of the reasons that I have my clients presenting with three or more of these symptoms to have undergone or to undergo a physical exam, in order to rule out any physical ailments. But also know that if you are suffering from major physical illnesses, you are probably suffering from depression also…and again, your depression is increased during the holiday season.

Many of you probably have different terminology for what is really a state of depression. You might consider yourself or a loved one as being ‘sad all the time,’ ‘having the blues,’ ‘feeling strange,’ ‘acting strange,’ ‘off the chain,’ ‘a little weepy’ most days, feeling a ‘little off balance,’ seeming a ‘little unstable,’ ‘under the weather,’ ‘feeling out of sorts,’ ‘not myself (him/herself),’ ‘can’t put a finger on it,’ etc. Because our society is just recently recognizing and publicly acknowledging that depression is a health crisis of major proportion as are many of the physical illnesses that impact the young as well the old, males as well as females, persons of all socio-economic backgrounds, all races, and all cultures, we are still lagging behind in equitable and adequate mental health treatment for ALL people.

In some cultures (especially the African-American culture and other non-majority cultures), acknowledging and discussing the issue of depression and the need to seek professional help is taboo for many. It’s akin to discussing the “Big C”—cancer. Unfortunately, any reference to mental health disabilities is often associated to the myth of one being considered “crazy!” As a result, there are too many who suffer in silence from depressive disorders. And we wonder why Uncle John, Aunt Suzy, sister Bev, or brother Al seem to be sad all the time or off the chain many times, especially during the holiday dinners. Their moods and behaviors are probably unpredictable and even more so during the holidays.  THEY ARE DEPRESSED!!!

During the holidays, depression not only increases due to the issues cited previously, but it is also increased because of the pressure many of you put on yourselves. The holiday season is very commercialized, and you have bought into it. You put yourself under undo stress and anxiety to live a life that you probably can’t afford; buying gifts that you probably can’t afford, and for people that you probably don’t even like! You are putting yourself under too much pressure for a period of time that will pass, just as fast as the days of the week and the seasons of the year! Even after the holidays are gone, you still have to live!

In addition, men are rarely given permission to acknowledge and show emotion, let alone acknowledge their depressive state and seek professional help. As a result, many men are uninformed or ill informed about what is wrong with them and they try to not only hide the strange feelings they are experiencing, their depression often goes untreated, spiraling out of control, catapulting them into frightening territories. The results are many times quite grave, resulting in self-destruction through alcohol, drugs, as well as other addictive behaviors, or they directly or indirectly cause the destruction of others. On too many occasions, the destruction is in the form of suicide, as well as the death of loved ones and others, usually with the use of guns.

Women also face many of the destructive behaviors men face as a result of their untreated depressive disorders. However, their destructive behaviors are usually not at as massive and publicly waged as men. Often they die silently with prescription medication or other means.

Ironically, in 2000, right after the holidays, my son-in-law committed suicide. I knew he had a bipolar disorder, but encouraging him and other family members that he needed professional mental health treatment, which would include talk therapy and medication maintenance, proved to be very difficult, resulting in his death. I was finally able to convince him to seek therapy. But without having a competent mental health professional who was able to see through his smoke screens, and due to his lack of compliance, he lost his battle. He was a star football player, a handsome guy, very intelligent, and a Morehouse College graduate, who had tried to live with the secret of depression the majority of his life.

I am pleased to see that with the recent issues plaguing our society, such as the school shootings, other murders and suicides, like that of famed comedian and actor Robin Williams, more men are acknowledging and talking about the issue of depression and calling for treatment. Like my son-in-law, many of you suffer from chemical imbalances related to the serotonin, a chemical in the brain, which acts as a neurotransmitter, relaying signals from one area of the brain to another. Although serotonin is found in the brain, performing its primary task, about 90% is found in the digestive tract and in blood platelets. Many researches believe that the imbalance in serotonin levels has direct influence on one’s mood, leading to depression.

Due to space and time, I am unable to present all forms of depression. However, any form of depression that can and will take you away from your normal and customary feelings, actions, moods, and behaviors, dictate the need for treatment. Those of you who are diagnosed as being clinically depressed, those with bi-polar disorders, post-partum depression, seasonal depression, PTSD, situational depression, and any of the other diagnosed mental health disorders will have a better quality of life if you seek and engage in committed and consistent treatment with a mental health professional.

If you already suffer from a depressive disorder, if untreated with a combination of talk therapy, medication maintenance, exercise, and proper diet, the holiday season can prove very difficult for you. Some of you might also benefit from Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOPT) or inpatient treatment (hospitalization). A lot of painful memories are dredged up during the holiday season, causing your depression to become more paramount. Remember, DEPRESSION DOES NOT MEAN CRAZY!!! And, all depressive disorders do not call for medication maintenance. However, if needed, don’t hesitate to accept and comply. You and your therapist can decide how often you need to come for therapy sessions, along with the mode and approach needed to treat your depressive disorder. And if you find yourself feeling suicidal, with or without a plan, don’t be afraid to go to the nearest emergency room. And family members and friends, it is important that you not try to treat the depressive disorders of your family members and friends, help them to get help from a professional! STAY IN YOUR LANE!!!

Even though you suffer from depression and the holidays make it even more difficult for you to cope, you CAN once again hold your head up, laugh, and keep moving forward, no matter what your situation seems kike; no matter how bleak things might seem, and no matter how dark your tunnel of life might appear, there is hope for you in managing your depression at all times…even during the holidays.  Simply put, rest assured that whatever you are going through IS merely a SITUATION and NOT necessarily YOUR CONDITION! If you hold on and hold out, it will pass! Your depression can be managed. SUICIDE IS NEVER AN OPTION!!!

For every door that closes, a bigger one will surely open.  It's time for you to close some of the doors of darkness in your life, so that you can begin to behold the light of prosperity, healing, hope, happiness, joy, and excitement! I want to remind you that although you might be in the tunnel of darkness and despair, due to external situations and circumstances, or your depressive disorder which you have suffered from for many years has seemed uncontrollable, THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL!! You CAN move out of your tunnel and learn to once again live in the light! Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone and ask for help. All of the major mental health fields have national, state, and local chapters of their organizations that you can call and seek help, including the association for marriage and family therapy, associations for psychologists, associations for professional counselors, and associations for psychiatrists.