Every year as New Year’s Eve approaches I think about resolutions, things I want to learn in the upcoming year, or bad habits I want to leave behind. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve seen friends post challenges on Facebook and photos on Instagram of their new habits. But, at the same time, there is a realization that January 1st is simple the day that follows December 31st and many of the challenges of one year are present in the next. Some people feel overwhelmed and saddened by another year of the same troubles.
I represent many people who suffer from mental illness; depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and addiction. During the winter, we also see many people who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (“SAD”.) The time change causes shorter days, and combined with cooler temperatures, people can feel increased anxiety, sadness, stress, lack of enjoyment in regular activities, feelings of isolation, and mood swings. When these feelings last longer than a season it may be depression. People diagnosed with bipolar disorder can have these feelings of depression and hopelessness, but then can change to mania, highs, feelings of euphoria, increased activity and irritability. Lastly, my clients with schizophrenia may suffer from confused thinking, an inability to know what is real, or experience delusions. Many people diagnosed with a mental illness also suffer from anxiety, depression or substance abuse addiction.
What does all of this mean?
The holiday season can exacerbate feelings of isolation, anxiety, sadness, and hopelessness. As a community, we then see increased levels of suicide, mental health commitments, and violence. Since the beginning of the year, the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office has documented numerous suicides and unknown numbers of suicide attempts. We have all seen the news about the tragic homicide of a mother and the kidnapping of her two daughters that Round Rock PD investigated last week. Each of these cases left family members mourning and a community asking, “why?”
We may never know the answer to “why?” But after a devastating suicide I always see the suicide hotline number passed around, or I see school counselors tells their students that their “door is always open.” I have shared that same sentiment with a friend going through a hard time. “Call me if you need anything. I’m here.” However, this assumes that friend knows they need help and can ask for it. What if they are embarrassed? What if they don’t know their feelings aren’t common or can change? What if they don’t have the energy to pick up the phone? What if no one is paying attention?
It’s hard to ask for help, but you know what is easier? OFFERING HELP.
My resolution or challenge to you is pay attention and reach out. If you notice that you haven’t seen your neighbor in a couple of days. If you haven’t heard from your friend in a while. If your co-worker is coming to work late, possibly intoxicated, and suggesting that life would be easier if they weren’t there. Offer them help. Don’t ignore it or turn a blind eye. It takes more energy to be present and it may take some time to talk to them, but the change you can make is immeasurable.
And if you don’t know what to do, there are great resources right here!
Williamson County has Bluebonnet Trails with locations in Round Rock, Cedar Park, Georgetown, Hutto, and Taylor. Bluebonnet Trails offers services from addiction assistance, to issues facing juveniles, veteran’s services, and major mental illness services. They have caseworkers, counselors, psychiatrists, and jail diversion. They are such a well connected and knowledgeable organization that they answer my questions!
I have also volunteered with Heroes Night Out. They’re a wonderful resource for Veterans and their families. They are veterans helping veterans. Soldiers who have been there, done that, and can relate to how their brothers or sisters are feeling. When someone feels isolated and alone, to know that someone else is out there that feels like them or knows what they’re going through, then they are no longer alone.
And in some cases, people need medication and hospitalization. Trust your gut. If you feel like someone is going to hurt themselves or others, call the police. They have Crisis Intervention Teams trained to handle mental health crises. We also have hospitals designed for mental health treatment and/or substance abuse treatment.
So, let’s practice healthy habits in 2018. Take care of your mental health. Be present. Offer help to those around you. Happy New Year!