For some, there is deep darkness behind the twinkling lights. What can you do to help anyone in your life who is struggling with depression?
One of Ireland’s most famous singers recently posted a suicide note on Facebook, and was thankfully found in time to be helped. That individual deserves privacy at this time, but the issue of depression and suicide – and the help available – merit some extra attention at this time of year.
This is a season known for joy, but it can also be a season of loneliness, anxiety and despair for anyone who struggles with depression, is estranged from family or facing financial woes. Seeing others celebrating with loved ones and spending like mad can twist the knife, making things feel even worse.
Add in the free flowing drinks, and you have real trouble. In 2013, alcohol was a factor in more than a third of the incidents of self-harm that hospitals recorded.
Ireland’s northern latitude doesn’t help. In December, the sun rises after 8:00 am and sets before 5:00 pm. The Christmas lights strung along the streets of cities and villages help cheer up those of us who feel a bit down, but for those with depression it isn’t nearly enough. The short days and overcast skies also mean people in Ireland tend to have low levels of vitamin D, which can make it harder to fight depression.
Find Help, and Be Help
Being aware of a problem is the first step to helping it, whether it is yourself or someone you know who is having a hard time. If you are suffering from depression, there are people who understand and want to help just a phone call away. If you want to help others, you have many options. In Ireland, you can donate money or time to Aware, Pieta House, The Samaritans or other groups. Similar groups exist around the world.
Lighting a candle in the window at Christmas time is an Irish tradition to welcome anyone caught out while travelling. It is a way of saying we aren’t like the innkeepers of Bethlehem who turned away Mary and Joseph. You can be more direct. If you know someone who has a troubled relationship with their family or is unable to travel to be with family, why not invite them to join you for Christmas dinner? If not that, what about meeting up for St. Stephen’s Day? Helplines are there to help people concerned about a depressed loved one, too.
There is no solid profile of who is likely to suffer depression or attempt to harm themselves. In 2013, men were most likely to harm themselves between the ages of 15 and 24 while women were most at risk of self-harm between the ages of 20 and 29. That doesn’t mean other age groups were free of self-harm. Many people who are bereaved by suicide were shocked. Their loved one had shown no clear sign of being in such distress.
So don’t wait until someone is obviously depressed. Reach out to those near you and remind them that you do care and you’re glad to know them. Contact a helpline to get advice. We get very focused on presents at this time of year, but our presence is our greatest gift to others. Show your appreciation by spending time with those you love, especially those who might be struggling. And if you are struggling, please seek help and tell others near you. You matter, and you can get through this with help.