For Some, the Holidays are Anything but Jolly

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The holiday season is ramping up, and while most people look forward to festivities with friends and family, for others this time of year can worsen stress, sadness and depression.

Some people have increased anxiety due to travel obligations, or the expenses of gift-giving. Others neglect self-care trying to make the holidays special for family or loved ones.

There is no evidence that the suicide rate spikes at Christmas, but suicides have dramatically increased in the U.S. in recent years. And Dennis Gillan, who lost two brothers to suicide, said each person needs coping mechanisms to help maintain their holiday equilibrium.

"Let's get comfortable talking about mental health so we don't have this increase," Gillan said. "And then, too, if you've been down this road, take care of yourself. Self-care is not selfish."

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is now the 10th-leading cause of death nationwide, and the second-leading cause for people ages 15-34. A report by Blue Cross Blue Shield showed Tennessee ranks among the highest states for depression rates among teens.

Temple University sociology professor Matt Wray has studied why suicide rates are higher in the American West than other parts of the United States. He said people thrive on strong friendships and family relationships, and too much solitude at any time of year can bring on feelings of despair.

"Social isolation; and I'm not talking here about loneliness, although loneliness can be a factor in suicide, but more about geographic and social disconnectedness," Wray said.

Mental health experts say for people who struggle during the holidays, this is not the time to cancel therapy sessions. The Suicide Prevention Lifeline is at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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