Editors note: “A Better Life” is a new weekly column by the USU Extension – Tooele Office that focuses on a variety of topics intended to enhance quality of life.
The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but they can also be a time of stress, worry and depression. This may be the reason that a false myth about spiking suicides tends to circle around the holidays. In actuality, they don’t. But disproving the myth doesn’t mean that suicide isn’t an important holiday topic.
With suicide rates continuing to rise in Utah, almost everyone has been touched by the tragic loss of a loved one. USU Health and Wellness Extension offers evidence-based information to support community mental health and is joining the efforts in suicide prevention.
Preholiday grief is a noted phenomenon. The focus on family togetherness, special traditions, and memories can complicate the grieving process. Knowing that the feelings of loss and loneliness are normal doesn’t necessarily lessen the difficulty of facing the holidays alone. Anthony Komaroff, MD, of the Harvard Health Letter, has a few suggestions for managing holiday grief:
• Start a new tradition: Instead of leaving the grief in the dark, like an elephant in the room, start something new that acknowledges it. Leave an empty chair. Place a special wreath on the door. Light a candle or offer another symbol of remembrance.
• Change it up: Instead of a dinner at home, go out for Chinese food. Instead of individual gifts, do a gift exchange or give to charity. Make an old tradition into something new.
• Open up: Don’t feel obligated to put on a happy face. Its OK to tell people how you feel and tell them if you don’t feel up to the usual activities.
• Help someone else: Reach out to others to connect and move past the isolation. Give to a new charity. Donate time at a shelter. Wrap gifts for children in need.
• Give yourself time: Grieving doesn’t occur in a straight line, but has hiccups and triggers along the way. When the bond was close, grief may be a life-long process. Be assured that in most cases, time lessens the blow. The holidays should eventually become easier.
The holidays are also a time when community members can reach out to those touched by suicide. If you know someone dealing with grief, here are a few ideas for reaching out:
• Do something for the 12 days of Christmas or eight days of Hanukkah that offers extended support for those who are grieving.
• Go beyond baking holiday cookies for a friend and invite them over to bake with you.
• Offer to go with the grieving friend to do volunteer work.
• Take action to prevent suicides in the future by completing a mental health training designed for community members.
Tooele is a community committed to suicide prevention. The Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training is offered regularly by Tooele Communities that Care. The training takes just 90 minutes. It includes information and role-playing to help people move past hesitation and be ready to notice and act when there is a need.
The next training will be held Jan. 24 at Tooele City Hall at 7 p.m. and is open to the public. This type of training has been proven to reduce suicides and is an opportunity to take action to bring merrier holidays in years to come. The USU Extension office has information and resources available.
Maren Wright Voss, ScD, is a professional practice extension assistant professor of health and wellness at the USU Extension – Tooele County office, which is located inside the Tooele County Health Department Building, 151 N. Main, Tooele. She can be reached at 435-277-2400 and at firstname.lastname@example.org.