Marriage Matters

Recognizing the signs

Make time to reach out to those who are having a hard time emotionally during the holidays

The seasons of Advent and Christmas are times filled with a wide range of emotions. Many people make time during Advent to anticipate the birth of Jesus and then celebrate His coming at Christmas. Some gather with family and friends while others celebrate the season by themselves. There are those among us who sense sadness and loneliness at this time of year and do not know what to do.

What happens when someone can’t make it home for the holidays and has to experience this season alone? What happens to individuals who sense detachment from their family during December?

In most cases, a day or two of “being alone” is manageable. Feeling blue or indifferent about life can come and go. However, a long-term sense of isolation that settles in like the winter’s cold can be overwhelming and lead to deep depression, hopelessness and perhaps suicide.

Here are some key actions that you can take when you notice someone exhibiting signs of despair. These steps can offer hope and dispel the darkness.

When you notice that the behavior of a loved one, co-worker or neighbor changes, the best action is to acknowledge the person’s distress. Begin by asking a sincere question about what you are observing. (“Are you feeling unhappy?” “How’s life going for you right now?”) Do your best to ask your question at a place and time when you are alone and have ample time to hear the response.

A person who is despairing often has a great deal to say. Be ready to focus on their story with your full attention. Do your best to remove distractions and prevent interruptions.

If the person shares with you that they are considering suicide, your goal is to help them find a way to live. Do this by persuading the person to seek professional help from a counselor, clergy or trusted adult. Remind them of their value to God, to you and to others. Ask them for a commitment —a promise — to stay alive. If necessary, do not leave them alone.

Know where to get professional help. Identify your local and regional services like hospitals, clinics and treatment centers. In addition, check out what your faith community offers. The most important way to dispel feelings of isolation is to be with the person and let them know you care. Listen to them. Listening is the greatest gift one person can give to another. It takes more time, patience and courage, but it is always life-sustaining. Do your best this holiday season to give those in your midst more presence, not presents.

By Alice Heinzen

Know the warning signs of a suicide crisis:

  • Expressions of hopelessness
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  • Depression
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Recklessness/disregard for one’s safety
  • Talking of suicide
  •  Securing lethal means
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