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Holidays not joyful for all

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Posted: Monday, November 25, 2002 10:00 pm

While the holidays bring joy to many people, some local residents experience gloom instead.

Depression can overshadow festivities and seem like an extra stress to the psychological load carried by most people.

The condition can cause persistent feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, and even thoughts of suicide. Family and friends can help loved ones battling depression by simply listening and validating their feelings.

Lodi psychologist Carolyn Fowle, who has practiced about 30 years, said she usually sees more patients between mid-November and January.

Fowle attributed the annual increase to stress brought on by the holidays, such as money issues or exhaustion.

"It's a time of nostalgia and thinking about past Christmases and future Christmases that perhaps can't be," she said.

Some people simply experience the holiday blues where they feel engulfed by a brief period of sadness. For others, the holidays can plunge them deeper into depression, Fowle said.

Depression is a common mental health condition, affecting 19 million Americans yearly, yet less than half seek help, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Marilyn Hughes, chief mental health clinician in San Joaquin County Mental Health Services, said the holidays can also take a toll on people who are distanced from family and friends.

People can feel depressed because of loneliness or from the diminished sunlight as in the case of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Symptoms of depression can include a persistent sad, anxious or empty mood; feelings of hopelessness, guilt or helplessness; loss of interest in ordinary activities; fatigue; restlessness or irritability; changes in sleep patterns, appetite or weight; and thoughts of death or suicide.

Depression can drive some people to commit suicide, if left untreated.

"All people who are suicidal are depressed. Suicide is when you've given up," she said.

Hughes said those who commit suicide reacted impulsively on their feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.

Some 30,000 people die annually from suicide, according to NIMH.

Men are four times more likely to kill themselves than women, despite more women attempting suicide. The increase rate is attributed to riskier suicide methods.

Frankie Engel, the county's Lodi mental health outpatient services manager, said people battling depression should steer clear of alcohol and other substances.

Some suicidal indicators can include previous suicide attempts, talk about death or suicide, planning for death and extreme sadness.

Engel said family and friends can reach out to loved ones contemplating suicide by being good listeners.

"You have to be willing to listen. And, you need to acknowledge their pain verbally," she said. "Let them know you understand their pain, and they're not alone and that suicidal feelings are temporary."

If there is an acute crisis, take the person to the local emergency room or a walk-in clinic and stay until help has arrived, Engel said.

According to Hughes, depression can be treated with psychotherapy and prescription medicine.

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