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More than just holiday blues: How to recognize and help those struggling through the season

Two people in gray holding hands
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

What is looked upon as a jovial, festive time of year for many is instead a dreadful time for others. Many who struggle with their mental well-being find that struggle even worse at this time of year. One local expert says families need to be willing to accept that it’s okay to not be okay, and those suffering need to know, they are not alone.

Some of the best-known signs a loved one may be dealing with depression include cancelling plans, an unusual sense of isolation, statements expressing hopelessness or negativity, an increase in substance use or a change of sleeping or eating patterns.

Michelle Abraham, assistant director for clinical services at Catholic Charities of Buffalo, says the ongoing COVID pandemic has fueled stress and ill feelings within many. When asked how to recognize and address a possible case of a loved one struggling with mental well-being, she stated that it’s important never to underestimate the importance of simply asking if a loved one is doing fine.

What they should avoid, however, is trying to find solutions they think quickly resolves the problem.

“We all go into this problem-solving mode when somebody that we love shares that they're hurting, and we want to tell them things they can do to just quick, feel better. And we'll just smile, and it'll get better. And what we know is that most individuals who are in that low place, when you start throwing out quick fixes or solutions, they might even be less likely to talk to you about it,” Abraham said. “They feel like you're dismissing them. The best thing you can do is say things like ‘I understand. That makes a lot of sense. I felt like that before too. You're not alone.’ A lot of people are struggling with the same thing right now.”

The lesser daylight hours also contribute to seasonal depression among many people. Keeping one’s serotonin levels up is critical. Vitamin D is a good source and exercise helps, too.

But there are other means by which to boost serotonin, according to Abraham.

”There are some less involved ways to increase serotonin, for example, just watching a funny movie. Laughter is actually one of the best serotonin boosts. So watching a stand-up comedy or reading a funny book is a great way to help get some of those chemicals to your brain during these short winter months.”

Counseling is available during the holidays for those in need. Here are contacts for some of those sources.

Crisis Services – (716) 834-3131

Catholic Charities of Buffalo – (716) 895-1033 or (877) 448-4466

Veterans Crisis Line – (800) 273-8255, then press 1

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.