Suicidal ideation and seasonal events
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Gavin Williams, M.A., MPhil. Psychodynamic Psychotherapist
29th August, 2013
Depression and suicidal ideation
Living with shame, loss and disappointment takes courage. Don’t escalate a disappointment into a catastrophe. Feeling depressed may result from a number of reasons; adults feeling depressed may result from traumatic experiences such as loss, a death in the family, divorce, the loss of a child or work-place bullying. Children may feel depressed over the loss of a parent, sibling, parent’s divorce, bullying or adoption.
Depression, especially during the holiday season, may feel more acute due to social pressures from advertising, the apparent need to party, expectations to conform to family, and to feel optimistic. Exam results, birthday, summer, Christmas and New Year celebrations can be times of stress as well as of joy.
Both depression and the personal act of suicide can haunt, hurt and cast a long shadow over the relatives and friends who are left behind. So talking about suicidal thoughts with a professional, instead of increasing the likelihood, may reduce the chance of both depression and suicidal thoughts and actions.
If you have a loved one who seems depressed and struggles with the will to live, one of the things you can do - once you have sought appropriate professional help, which should always be your first step - is to check in with them regularly and openly and act if you're concerned. Risk asking direct, non-judgmental questions... Do you feel like hurting or killing yourself? Have you made a plan?
Taking the opportunity to find regular emotional support by joining a group, or talking to a GP or a professional psychotherapist can share stress, anxiety and depression.
People feeling depressed may report at least five of the following symptoms for longer than a two week period:
- Depressed mood, nearly every day during most of the day
- Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
- Significant weight loss, weight gain, or change in appetite
- Too much or too little sleep
- Agitation or lethargic
- Fatigue or loss of energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Impaired ability to concentrate or indecisiveness
- Thoughts and dreams of death or suicide
Many people struggle with depression and anxiety during the darkest months of the year. Feelings of detachment, numbness, loss, or pressure to make Christmas special can make the symptoms of depression worse. For people who are on their own Christmas can be the loneliest time of the year. A sense of isolation can be felt much more acutely when the rest of the population appears to be celebrating and having a good time.
Christmas only adds extra stress with presents to buy, meals to prepare, expectations to live up to and family to deal with. Added to that the financial problems that might arise when the bills arrive in January and so it is little wonder that following the euphoria of Christmas this is likely time of the year to experience depression.
There are a few simple steps that could help alleviate a depression.
- Beware of drinking to excess as alcohol, a depressogenic that may induce depression in some people, may worsen symptoms of depression, but may actually have antidepressant effects in others (as suggested by Patt Denning). Many people resort to alcohol as a substitute for suicide so that alcohol might actually work to help prevent suicide.
- If you are worried about being alone, find out what is going on in your local community or join a local volunteer group.
- See whether there is a good day or time to visit friends or relatives if you crave company.
- If, on the other hand, you are worried about being overwhelmed at family events, think ahead about which you want to go to, and which you will be able to make your apologies for. You don’t need to feel guilty about implementing personal boundaries.
- Sharing your feelings with others, such as friends and family members, can help you identify and work through any emotional challenges you may be experiencing. Having a reliable network of social supports can help combat the feelings of isolation that often accompany depression, for example, join an interest group.
- Regular physical activity has been shown to have antidepressant effects in people with mild to moderate depression, i.e. performing a task like cooking, gardening, or volunteering.
- Do not be afraid or ashamed to seek help, professional or otherwise.
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