GREENSBORO, N.C. (WGHP) — Millions of Americans will experience seasonal depression this holiday, including some people in the Piedmont Triad.
According to the latest data from the National Institute of Mental Health, around 19.4 million Americans experience the disorder every year. That’s nearly 8% of U.S. adults and it’s highest among adult women between 18- and 25-years-old.
The pandemic has made it even more challenging for mental health caregivers to get people help during the holidays.
“The holidays can magnify what you don’t have or magnify what you do have,” said Stephanie Rhodes, the director of peer support specialists at Mental Health Greensboro.
Rhodes told FOX8 social isolation during the pandemic is one reason behind the uptick of new seasonal depression cases.
“We haven’t had people play a lot of roles in our life this year,” she said. “It’s felt isolating.”
Meanwhile, peer support specialists are overwhelmed with calls from people who are emotionally exhausted and anxious this time of year.
“It’s hard, you don’t get the hugs, you don’t get to hear the stories, or watch the kids unwrap the presents and be that close-knit,” said Jennifer Keating, a participant in the LIFT Peer Support Internship. “You don’t have the energy, you don’t have the strength to get out of bed.”
This year will be different for Keating and many others adjusting plans to meet COVID-19 guidelines. Keating said she misses the close time spent with family.
In 2017 she was diagnosed with major depression and severe anxiety when she had feelings she’s never felt before. The challenges with the pandemic have not made her recovery any easier.
“When I was at my darkest point it’s like no more hands are reaching down to grab you to help you up,” Keating said. “That lonely feeling, it’s like when the birds aren’t singing, there’s no wind, it’s dark, it’s a really quite scary place.”
It’s a place more people have experienced since COVID-19 hit the U.S. nearly two years ago. Rhodes said the holidays can be the hardest time of the year for some people.
“It’s really hard to conjure up that holiday cheer and that hope for a next year when you’ve been blindsided by a national isolation pandemic,” Rhodes said.
Rhodes told FOX8 people are emotionally exhausted after following evolving guidance, isolating from each other, worrying about COVID-19 spreading and just not seeing an end to the pandemic.
“We can’t remove the regulations,” she said. “We can’t remove the variant and the COVID, unfortunately, it’s here to stay for right now.”
She said hope and gratitude will bring us through this tough time.
“Giving to others, being creative, being grateful for what we do have,” Rhodes said. “People are losing their partners, people are losing their fathers, their mothers, their children and we have to maintain an attitude that we can make a difference still.”
This holiday season, think outside the box if you start to feel down. It can include a drive-by gift-giving event or taking time to make a video call with a loved one.
“You see your loved ones, you see that they are okay, you’re offering a symbol of your love to them and gratitude for who they’ve been in your life but you’re always protecting yourself and following the guidelines,” she said.
The connection with others will make a difference and spark joy,
“Tell people that they’re not alone,” Rhodes said. “There’s not something wrong with you, you’re not doomed to a life of solitude, that recovery actually allows you to sharpen the edges you already have and unlock those answers that are within you.”
Mental Health Greensboro offers free holiday blues classes and other support groups.