While it may seem like everyone else is enjoying the festive cheer of the holiday season, those dealing with mental health issues often find this time of year to be one of great distress.
In light of the holiday season, the Ontario Alliance of Mental Health Practitioners (OAMHP) are reminding the public that tension and anxiety can be particularly prominent at this time of year.
Chris Papastamos is president of the Professional Association of Christian Counsellors and Psychotherapists and on the steering committee of OAMHP.
He said there are a number of reasons for people to feel stress and anxiety this time of the year.
Maybe it is the first time someone is going through the holiday season without a loved one and they are experiencing a sense of grief. There may be others experiencing different kinds of loss, such as a job, or perhaps health concerns.
There are “a lot of real-life issues” Papastamos said people are facing.
“These are things that are difficult any time of the year, but the holiday season seems to accentuate it,” Papastamos said. “There is the typical pressure people feel during the holidays, such as entertaining and shopping and hosting, dealing with financial debt that comes afterwards. All of those things add a sense of stress during the holidays.”
For some, these feelings of anxiety and depression can “creep up on them” in a very subtle way. For others, just the thought of the holiday season can be a trigger.
Some may not even realize what the stress is all about.
Since 2002, the OAMHP has served to highlight the different mental health resources that are available to the public. The alliance includes 13 mental health organizations and institutions invested in working together to ensure the public are aware of the best mental healthcare options available.
What they will find, Papastamos said, is there isn’t any one way of therapy and there are “a lot of different options.”
The alliance designed a website (www.ontariomentalhealthalliance.ca) specifically for the public, one that can help them find what options are available to them when they do decide to reach out.
“One of the things is people need to acknowledge what they are feeling. It is OK to be sad, it is OK to feel grief; it is OK to express your feelings,” Papastamos said. “Reaching out would be a key thing; to not isolate one’s self, but to reach out for assistance.”
These feelings of anxiety brought on by the holidays aren’t something new, Papastamos said.
It has been estimated in Canada that one-in-five people will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives and in London it's no different. This time of the year can be more challenging for people; it's just that one more thing on their plate.
“There are a lot of expectations, some people fee this pressure to feel a sense of joy and holiday cheer and that just isn’t the case for some of these people experiencing tragic and difficult circumstances,” Papastamos said. “Reaching out to family, reaching out to friends, not isolating themselves, calling a professional, these are all ways of getting help and support.”
Another way to achieve that, Papastamos said, is to look for opportunities to be of supportive of someone else going through something challenging this time of year.
Again, Papastamos said, it helps individuals realize they aren’t alone, but also they can support others as well.