Not only is it a myth that depression and suicide spike during the holidays, but studies have shown that half of all news references perpetuate the falsehood. In fact, suicides are most common during the Spring, when warmer temperatures, longer days and the rebirth of nature’s bounty lift most spirits. Those who remain sad when those around them are happy may be more motivated to end their lives.
The November through January period has the lowest suicide rate, according to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics.
Holiday Stressors Can Be Crippling
That doesn’t mean the holidays aren’t problematic from a mental health standpoint. There are more stressors during the holidays, both familial and financial. Being thrown together with noisome family members at holiday gatherings and struggling with gift-buying obligations can exacerbate ambient sadness and depression, particularly in the cold and dark of winter.
A survey by the American Psychological Association found that most people are joyful during the holidays, but that emotion is tinged with fatigue, stress, and sadness.
Angel Smith, a Licensed Independent Social Worker-Clinical Practice who serves as a program director at Charleston Dorchester Community Mental Health, says the holidays do present a rise in alcohol and drug use and increased risk-taking behaviors. She says that Thanksgiving through New Year’s can be especially challenging for individuals who have lost a loved one during the year. They may experience a painful void when marking the absence of that person during special times, like Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings.
Play a Key Role
Social workers can play an important role in the lives of individuals dealing with loss during the holidays. Smith offers clients a variety of strategies to offset grief, first by understanding what stage of grief they are in and second by reframing the feelings to focus on positives, like those still dear, or the traditions that the lost loved one helped make special.
Here’s one example, Smith says: “If they’re in the guilt phase of grief, they may have irrational thoughts, like ‘if I had known it was the last Christmas I would have with them, I would have done X.’ We can use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to process thoughts and determine whether they are rational,” she explained.
Social workers may support the mental health of individuals, groups or entire mental health systems. Consequently, social workers must be educated in group and individual clinical interventions and also understand mental health on a larger scale. In addition to the clinical setting, they may be deployed in mental health advocacy, public policy, administration, and management.
The MSW Program
This variety of skills is taught in the Master’s degree program through the University of South Carolina at the Lowcountry Graduate Center in North Charleston. That is where Smith, an undergraduate psychology major, first developed her social work skills.
“It really prepared me for my career,” she said. “With professors actively working in the field, not removed from it, they taught us there were so many different things we could do in social work.”
Smith particularly appreciated the hands-on aspect of the curriculum. She says the role-playing they did in class paid off once she entered the field.
The 60-credit-hour program can be completed in three years by professionals who attend classes part-time. For more information, click here.