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Grief can strike around holidays, experts say

The Jonesboro Sun - 12/24/2017

JONESBORO - The holiday season can be a difficult time for those dealing with the loss of a loved one, or for fighting depression or other mental health issues.

Those occasions can act as a trigger, said Dr. Jody Long, an assistant professor at Arkansas State University. Long, a licensed clinical social worker who teaches in the school's social work program, said grief and depression often manifest themselves around many holidays due their tendency to remind people of loved ones they've either lost or are no longer in contact with.

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website reports that depression and suicide can peak in the spring and fall, there are also numerous triggers during the holiday season.

"We tend to re-enact grief on these kind of anniversary dates that are so important to celebrate together," Long said. "If you've lost your significant other, it can be like you're all alone even if you're surrounded by others."

With that comes the importance of trying to engage with others during the holidays, Long said.

"You don't want to be alone in grief. Try to be around other people, extended family or neighbors or friends," he said. "Experience difficult periods of time alone, the loneliness creeps in. Loneliness can be brutal, but social stimulation and support from just the interaction of being around people is just significant."

Those experiencing extreme depression or with suicidal thoughts or impulses should seek help, he added.

"If you have those kind of thoughts you need to probably seek out some professional kind of help or get with your loved ones and talk about the support you need to get through this difficult time," he said.

Craighead County Sheriff Marty Boyd said Friday that his office sees the other side of how depression or grief, when not dealt with properly, can affect families around the holidays.

"We see depression more so in domestic disturbances, causing domestic situations and people coming to jail because of things like that," Boyd said.

Pocahontas resident Kristi Kirk said while some experience grief better with others, it's important to realize that people grieve in different ways. The most important thing you can do for someone undergoing grief or depression is to be supportive. Her husband and son died nearly two years apart about six years ago, leaving her and her two daughters behind.

"One thing I've noticed is a lot of people are uncomfortable with grief," she said. "Not just if they're experiencing it, but if those around them are. I think it stems from our culture being so fast paced."

It's important to give people time to feel their emotions, Kirk said.

"Everything needs to be faster, so when you get in a situation where you have a loss, and you feel grief and loss and you don't know what to do," she said. "A lot of people around us push forward instead of letting themselves feel."

Today, Kirk operates a website and blog and has been invited to speak about her family at school events, conferences and athletic and academic achievement banquets. She said the holidays can cause people to reflect more on those they've lost.

"When we think about the holidays, we think about being with our loved ones," she said. "We went from a family of five to a family of three, so simple things like hanging up the stockings by the fireplace all the sudden I had two that weren't there anymore."

Long, who previously worked at a hospice facility in Georgia, said he also advises those dealing with grief to take time feel their emotions.

"We used to tell people to go ahead and feel your sadness, and go ahead and experience your grief, but don't be alone with it," he said.

NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital operates the Center for Good Grief to help those dealing with grief at 1717 Executive Square in Jonesboro. For more information, call (870) 936-7719.

 
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