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Fighting the holiday blues

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

As the holiday season rolls in and service members roll out to spend time with family, many welcome the season with open arms.

The holidays aren’t always a good time for everybody, however.

“Although we tend to think of the holidays as ‘happy times,’ they can also bring up feelings of loneliness, hopelessness or despair for others,” said Maj. Owen Williams, 47th Medical Group mental health flight commander. “A history of significant family problems, to include physical, emotional, sexual or substance abuse, are strongly correlated with emotional and mental health issues; the holidays can be a time these issues surface the strongest for affected individuals.”

Studies suggest that while still a threat, suicide numbers actually fall during the holidays.

“The idea that suicides occur more frequently during the holiday season is a long perpetuated myth,” Williams said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics the suicide rate is the lowest in December, with spikes in the spring and the fall. This pattern has not changed in recent years.

Williams stressed the “ACE” method, or what one should do if they encounter a person in distress, who may be experiencing suicidal or self-harming thoughts:  

- Ask your Airman, buddy, co-worker or family member direct questions about thoughts of suicide. Ask if they have access to any means of harming themselves, for example, a gun, knife, medications, etc.

- Care for them by calmly expressing concern and limiting their access to any means for self-harm.

- Escort them right away to a helping resource or agency.

- And remember: never leave the distressed person alone.

“You never know what people are going through, or how that impacts them,” said Master Sgt. Edward Slaughter, 47th Medical Group and Wing Staff Agencies first sergeant. “The holidays are different for everybody. Sometimes, people put on a smile on the outside, but on the inside they aren’t [happy]. They see everyone else happy, and wonder why they aren’t.”

“If you don’t have a plan or something to do on the holidays, let someone know,” Slaughter said. “People want to help, they just need to know how to—and there’s tons of great people to go to.”

Although the numbers may drop this season, Williams urges people not to let their guard down.

“It is important we take care of each other during the holidays,” said Williams. “Invite an Airman over for a holiday meal, call to check on your buddy, send a ‘happy holidays’ group text to your work section--any act that makes someone feel thought of, valued and appreciated can go a long way to combating any holiday blues.”