An Unwelcome Guest

Dealing with depression during the holidays means you're not alone.


   While many people do indeed have a holly, jolly Christmas, many others suffer from what could be described as jingle bell hell.

   Although research has found that depression and suicide actually peak in the spring, the holidays can produce very real and urgent feelings of despair that should be addressed. It is not uncommon to feel stressed, anxiety-ridden, wretched and just plain exhausted, and particularly vulnerable if someone close to you has died or if you can’t be around loved ones.

   Experts urge the importance of realizing that you are not alone in feeling depressed this time of year and that help is available when it strikes.

   “We have this stigma of mental illness that it doesn’t deserve,” says Brenda Rump, a licensed psychologist and team leader at Johnson County Mental Health Center’s Crisis Recovery Center in Shawnee.

   Kansas City Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre is one area celebrity who has tried to dispel that stigma. In 2009 he wrote with Jeffery Flanagan The Shame of Me: One Mans Journey to Depression and Back in an effort to inspire others suffering what he suffered from: Major Depressive Disorder.

   “Thankfully, I realized that being depressed didn’t mean I wasn’t tough enough, and eventually I got help,” Lefebvre wrote. “Admitting a problem and doing something about it means you are brave enough. I remember thinking, ‘If I’m on medication for depression, something must be really wrong with me.’ Well, something was really wrong with me. It had nothing to do with how old I was, how healthy I was, or how successful I was. Depression doesn’t profile or discriminate. It doesn’t care who or what you are. It doesn’t matter how strong you think you are. If you’re one of the unfortunate, it will get you. But there is a way out.”

   That same year, Stephen S. Ilardi, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, wrote The Depression Cure: The 6-Step Program to Beat Depression without Drugs. His six “major protective lifestyle elements” have antidepressant properties: dietary omega-3 fatty acids, engaging activity, physical exercise, sunlight exposure, social connection and adequate sleep.

   Rump, who highly recommends these books, also is a fan of a “warm line” (as opposed to a hotline that deals with crises) called Compassionate Ear. Available from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. daily for people who want to talk to someone about their mental state, Compassionate Ear is manned by trained volunteers at (913) 281-2251.

   The holidays can bring feelings of depression and sadness even for those who have not been diagnosed as clinically depressed. So what’s the difference between the blues and depression? The blues, experts say, are temporary feelings of sadness, loneliness or grief that, in time, recede and allow you to bounce back. Depression, however, lingers and interferes with your life, and often requires medical intervention.

   “Part of it is we know a person is depressed because of the effect it has on their normal functioning,”nRump explains. “Things like their work, their social life, their daily care, putting on clean clothes, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or not at all.”

    Rump, who is being treated for depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), knows all too well the feelings produced during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. For her, that week signals relief because she knows that the days will soon start to get longer and her symptoms of SAD will lessen.

   “I find myself even printing off sunrise and sunset calendars and pinpointing the day when those days get longer,” she says. “It’s usually about Jan. 5.”

   Although she dreads these days of leaving work at 5 p.m. when it’s dark outside, Rump had learned to cope with effective remedies, such as a special lamp that provides bright light therapy. Another effective way to deal with depression is to know your triggers, she says. Triggers can be financial pressures, personal demands or the holidays.

   “You know they are coming up, so what are you going to do about it?” Rump says of triggers. “How are you going to manage it? One of the hardest things for people to do is to get going. We call it behavioral activation. That’s putting one foot in front of the other and getting active and doing something. That’s very hard when somebody is very depressed. It takes every amount of energy they have just to get out of bed. So what I tell them is you have to set a small goal, get out of bed, get that shower taken, and then you’ve met your goal. The next day, do the same thing. Pretty soon you’re going to work up some momentum, and you’re going to get yourself out of that depression. But you have to keep active. You’ve got to truly force yourself.”

   One symptom of depression is ruminating thoughts — getting stuck in a cycle where all you can think about are negative things such as ‘I don’t want to do this, Christmas is so sad, look at all these people,’” Rump says. “Maybe you even have a jaded view of how our society approaches the holidays. You have to recognize that that’s what you’re doing, and that’s when you have to make a plan and decide ‘what am I going to replace it with? What am I going to say to myself instead of those things?’”

   That's when a "graditude list" comes in handy. Rump tells her clients to write down three things they are grateful for before they go to sleep so they can think about those things "instead of dreary, awful things."

   She also recommends volunteering because it gets you active and out of your own head.

   “There’s a lot of opportunities to volunteer over the holidays, whether it’s baking cookies for Ronald McDonald House, sending letters to a soldier or working in a soup kitchen,” she says.

   She’s battled depression, which runs in her family, for years. Therapy and medication have helped.

   “This is something you have to keep working at,” Rump says of depression. “When you find yourself sinking, you go to get out of it early. The depth of the depression is temporary, and time does help you get better, but you’ve got to be ready and prepared so you don’t get into another episode. You can learn to manage it.”

Helpful Numbers

Ark of Friends Wellness Center
(816) 753-0583

Compassionate Ear Warmline
(913) 281-2251

Johnson County, Kan., Crisis Line
(913) 831-2550

Mental Health America of the Heartland Mental Health Help Line
(913) 281-2221

Missouri (Jackson, Johnson, Cass, Lafayette, Platte, Ray counties) Mental Health Crisis Line

Suicide Prevention Hotline
1-800-273-TALK (8255) or
1-800 –SUICIDE (784-2433)

United Way 211 Information and Referral Line
dial 2-1-1

Wyandotte County, Kan. Mental Health Crisis Line
(913) 788-4200