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Suicide prevention for the holidays

Taking a walk with someone else is a good way to feel a part of the holidays.
Taking a walk with someone else is a good way to feel a part of the holidays.
Photo by Donald Michael Schwartz, December 19, 2009

December, tis the season to be merry, for some families, though, tis the season to prevent suicide.  Of all the gifts to consider for the holidays, for some loved ones, the gift of a sense of belonging may be the greatest gift of all.

Learning to look for early warning signs is important to make sure your loved ones are safe from harming themselves, said Juan Bishaw, an assistant house manager in a Crisis Residential Services of Washtenaw County house.  "If your notice a relative at a family Christmas party sitting alone, more than usual," Bishaw pointed out, "go over and talk to them.  Ask them a question like how their weekend was, or if they had a new adventure lately."

Bishaw emphasized to ask soft questions when finding out if a loved one is becoming more depressed and at risk of harming themselves.

The festivities of the holidays can easily distract us from the deepening sadness experienced by someone we care about.

We need to be aware of the things we don't see.  "Someone feeling suicidal probably won't show up to the holiday party," said Dave French, crisis residential staff member of Synod Residential Services.  "Give them a call. Invite them out shopping or to do something they enjoy."

If you believe someone is in danger of hurting themselves, but won't open up to you,  French said, then "talk to someone who knows the person better.  Maybe [he or she] is going through a breakup or is sick, which might explain the depression."

Both French and Bishaw agree that concerned loved ones and friends should make the conversations as natural as possible.  If you push someone too much beyond their comfort zone, they may withdraw further.  Helping people who are feeling despair and isolation to feel cared about and wanted is essential.  Helping them to join in with the festivities may need to be gradual.

Many people have very high expectations of what the holidays should be.  Bishaw emphasized that the conversation should "turn on the positive," when when a loved one starts to get upset or depressed over a lack of yule tide cheer.  Emphasize the positive someone has in his or her life, he continued, and then ask, "What can I do to make the holiday season more joyful for you...[and] Don't forget them after the holidays.  Call them or visit them to see how they are doing."

So this is the season to be merry, and it can be an enjoyable and mentally healthy season for all if we put the gift of belonging and sharing at the top of all our shopping lists.

Check out the Suicide Prevention Resource Center for more information.