TRURO – Jennifer Gregory is becoming more and more anxious the closer it gets to Christmas.
Geoff Alcock and Jennifer Gregory are very aware of how mental health issues can affect the holidays in a negative way. The Colchester County residents have struggled with depression for many years and are hoping to educate others on what it’s like dealing with a mental health issue and how the community can help. Monique Chiasson – Truro Daily News
The Bible Hill resident is one of many people who struggles with mental health issues. She dreads the holidays, a time when most people are full of cheer.
“I’m having more anxiety … it feels like I have a heart attack every day,” said Gregory, 45, trying to describe what it can be like dealing with depression during the holidays. She has struggled with the illness since she was 12 years old.
“I get sad, anxious, lonely. Even when around people, I still feel alone … it’s like falling into a black hole that doesn’t have a bottom (and) you can’t see a light.”
In addition to depression, Gregory said the holidays will be even more difficult because her family will be away during Christmas.
There is something that can help Gregory, and others, facing mental illness, she said. Having a community that is understanding, compassionate and aware that depression is a legitimate illness does indeed help, Gregory said.
“Not to be so judgmental, not to say, ‘it’s Christmas put a smile on your face.’ There’s not a magic pill (that goes) poof no more depression,” said Gregory, adding it’s difficult seeing and hearing the joy of the season all around her when she is struggling.
It also is hurtful, she said, when others think people with depression “are selfish” and “should snap out of it.”
“If they lost a left arm would they snap out of that? Or if you lost your sight, would you snap out of it?”
Gregory is also finding ways to help her situation. She’s on medication, meditates and has a good support system.
“I take it one day at a time and if (her story) helps others that’s OK,” she said, adding people should never take for granted their good health.
Salmon River’s Geoff Alcock, with the Canadian Mental Health Association Colchester East Hants branch and a peer support specialist through the provincial government, agrees the community can make a positive difference with a little understanding and awareness on mental health issues.
“Your emotions and thoughts are completely out of whack. People don’t realize how cognitive and how physically painful it can be,” said Alcock, 73, who has clinical depression and post traumatic stress disorder. He said his mental illness disorders
stem from childhood physical and sexual abuse.
“Remember, you really don’t know what it’s like until you are walking in someone else’s boots. A person with mental illness is very isolated. They want to reach out but can’t … most people are not aware of the dreadful numbness.”
Alcock said learning about mental health and reducing the stigma are important messages for all residents to embrace. He believes more knowledge often leads to sensitivity and acceptance. And, it’s happening more and more, he said.
“I’ve seen a big difference … there have been huge improvements and more understanding” during the past number of years, he said.
Tips from holiday peace of mind
- Plan ahead and keep things simple
- Organize and delegate, make lists
- Beware of overindulgence
- Stay in budget
- Remember what the holidays are about for you. Make it personal and meaningful in your own way.
- Invite others, network, reach out to others
- Connect with your community
- Find ways to make and give less expensive gifts
- Remember winter weather blahs affect some people emotionally (seasonal affective disorder).
- Learn stress-busting skills you can use year round
* Information provided by the Colchester Mental Health Association, Colchester East Hants branch