Depression, anxiety cases can rise during holiday season


Heightened stress, unrealistic expectations can lead to incidents of domestic violence and suicide

Typically, the holidays are viewed as a joyous time of celebration that people share with friends and loved ones.

However, that is not the case for everyone. Some people suffer from increased anxiety or depression brought on by the various stressors of the holidays, which can result in a host of potentially harmful outcomes, including domestic violence and suicide.

“There is a lot of increased stress during the holidays, and expectations,” said Melissa Scaramuzzo, quality management coordinator for Lutheran Community Services Northwest, the organization Crook County contracts with for mental health services. “It’s not just financial stress, but also increased time that people spend with family members and just socializing in general.”

Scaramuzzo said that everyone feels some level of stress during the holidays as people try to give the perfect gifts to friends and family members, and participate in different social gatherings and holiday traditions. However, those stressors have a greater impact on someone who struggles with anxiety or depression.

“It can trigger recurring mental health issues. It can trigger an episode,” she said. “Addiction too — it can trigger relapses.”

During the holidays, people can sometimes place overly high expectations on themselves or on the holiday experience itself, Scaramuzzo said, and when those expectations are not met, it can prompt mental health issues.

“Also, the holidays, as a result of being around a lot of family, can trigger grieving for lost loved ones — people who have lost someone this time of year,” she added.

Locally, the Prineville Police Department has dealt with two suicides this holiday season.

“We deal with a lot of people who are certainly contemplating suicide this time of year. It feels like it's more than normal,” said Police Captain Michael Boyd. “We try as much as possible to get that person the help that they need.”

Violence does not necessarily increase locally during the holiday season, Boyd said, although more of it tends to take place in the home.

“Whenever you have people cramped up inside houses, in the wintertime, you have more indoor fights,” he said. “It’s proximity. It’s the lack of being able to do anything to dissipate the energy and frustration.”

When it comes to potential anxiety or depression, Scaramuzzo offers some tips to minimize the stress that people face during the holidays.

“Be realistic about your situation and the people you are with,” she said. “People expect their friends and family to be different during the holidays.”

She added that people should similarly have realistic expectations about the holiday itself and what it means for everybody.

“Not every holiday is going to be perfect and it may not be exactly how your family did it,” Scaramuzzo said. “Families grow and change. It’s about keeping what traditions you can, but then also making room for new traditions or maybe even letting go of traditions that are more stress than they’re worth.”

Other suggestions include limiting alcohol consumption at gatherings, planning ahead financially for the season, and finding ways to honor lost loved ones that take the emphasis off of the grief.

For those who are concerned that a friend or loved one is contemplating suicide, Scaramuzzo suggests people keep an eye out for certain warning signs.

“Isolation is the biggest risk factor in suicide,” she said. “If you see somebody is by themselves a lot — withdrawn — that tends to be a warning sign.” Increased substance abuse or risky behavior should be noted as well.

With less severe symptoms, Scaramuzzo suggests sitting the person down and checking in to see how they are doing or how they are feeling. She added that it may help to encourage the person to attend community events or volunteer, which tends to shelter them from isolated situations and prevent the likelihood of suicide.

However, those at greater risk require more urgent action.

“If there is any talk of suicide whatsoever, the best place to go would be the emergency room,” Scaramuzzo said.