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Support Systems during the Holidays

As the days get shorter and the temperatures get colder, many people start to experience seasonal depression. On top of dealing with the transition to winter, everyone begins managing the tasks and activities that come with the holiday season. Whether it’s hosting responsibilities, family tensions, or the economic strain of gift giving, everyone has something that causes them stress throughout the holidays. And dealing with stress, can exacerbate depression, anxiety, and other negative feelings that can take a toll on any individual.

This is why National Stress Free Family Holiday Month is observed in December. This national observance was created to recognize that although the holidays are supposed to be a time for joy, they are actually often the cause of added stress in many people’s lives.

When struggling with stress and mental illness, a key component to recovery is having a healthy support system. “Having a healthy support system can help you manage everyday stressors, make difficult decisions, or even offer support during a crisis situation,” says Lynn McGann, LCSW, a Mental Health Therapist at St. Clair Health. A support system comprised of people that you respect and trust can have a positive impact on your overall mental health and help to combat social isolation and loneliness.

Many people often ask Lynn where they should start if they do not have anyone to lean on for support. She has found that it is rare that a person has no one that they can turn to in tough situations. Often times, those who are struggling with depression have people reaching out to them, but they may feel pushed away because the depressed person has low energy and no motivation or feels as though they are a burden. Lynn suggests the best thing to do is start with something small such as answering text messages. From there, you can slowly work on putting yourself out there and asking for help.

“When it comes to identifying a support system, it’s important to remember that there may not be one person you confide in about everything and that’s OK,” says Lynn. You may have a coworker you talk to about work related issues and a family member or friend you talk to about your spouse or children. You may also have a therapist or psychiatrist you rely on for mental health concerns. Everyone’s support system is different, and the number of people within your support system does not matter. What matters is whether or not you trust them.

If you are struggling to build your support system or need to speak to someone outside of your support system, there are resources available to help you, including:

  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has local support groups that aim to help individuals seeking mental health support. The organization also offers a Family-to-Family program dedicated to educating the loved ones of people with mental health conditions.
  • If you are an Allegheny County resident, you can utilize the Peer Support Warmline by calling 1.866.661.9276. The Warmline is available daily from 9:00 am – 1:00 am and gives you the opportunity to speak with someone who will actively listen to, empathize with, and encourage you.
  • If you are in need of immediate help you can also utilize the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Trained crisis workers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They are there to provide you with crisis counseling and mental health referrals. You can find more information about the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by going to https://www.mentalhealth.gov/get-help/immediate-help.

Lynn also recommends developing a support system by connecting with people whom you share interests with. You can do this by joining a club, attending a place of worship, signing up for a support group, or volunteering. You can find local events on www.meetup.com. You can also find local support groups by checking out Mental Health America’s local chapter at www.mhaswpa.org.

It’s important to remember it may take time to build a support group. It is okay to utilize your support system while also exploring resources available for you if you are struggling. Everyone’s journey is different and everyone needs to be supported!