British Columbia

The downside of the merry season: holidays can trigger trauma for those with mental health issues

It's sold as the merriest time of the year, but the Christmas season can trigger people who struggle with depression and anxiety.

Vancouver Island Crisis Society preparing for callers struggling at Christimas time

Christmas time can be particularly triggering for people who have a history of trauma associated with the holidays or struggle with depression and anxiety already, said Lyndsay Wells. (Zivica Kerkez/Shutterstock)

Staff at the Vancouver Island Crisis Society are preparing for an increase in calls to their crisis line over the holiday season from people concerned about their mental health in the midst of what is marketed as the merriest time of the year.

The society's crisis line serves island callers, as well as Gulf Island residents and the B.C. mainland communities between Powell River and Rivers Inlet, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Christmas time, according to spokesperson Lyndsay Wells, can be particularly triggering for people who have a history of trauma associated with the holidays or struggle with depression and anxiety already.

"The body is a pretty miraculous thing and it has a way of remembering these things," said Wells in an interview on CBC's On The Island. "When the holiday season comes up we might not even realize why we are not feeling so great but it could be because things happened in the past and it triggers mental health things now."

Another factor, said Wells, is that substance and alcohol use goes up at this time of year in many households.

Reducing stigma

Wells' advice for anyone with a history of trauma who is having trouble coping at Christmas? Call the crisis line.

"Talking about our pain and our sadness and our struggles saves lives," says Wells, adding the line is open to all ages and has seen a substantial increase in calls from young people in the last five years.

Wells, who is the society's community education program coordinator, hopes this increase is a sign young people feel less stigma around mental health issues than previous generations.

She said the society has outreach initiatives in island schools for children as young as Grade 4.

"We are making it safe and kind of normal to be able to get help," said Wells. "It's not something to stay hidden."

But Wells worries about suicide attempts at this time of year, something she says there is still a lot of stigma around despite the fact that one in five people will consider it this year.

"It's not a sign of weakness, it's not a sign that someone is damaged or weird, all it means is that someone is carrying around way more than they can cope with and they need help."

Wells hopes island residents who feels they can't cope this Christmas will reach out to the society for help. 

The crisis line receives approximately 30,000 calls per year from people in crisis or who require emotional support.

"There's no crisis too big or too small, if it is a crisis for you give us a call," said Wells.

Callers can reach the Vancouver Island Crisis Line toll free at 1-888-494-3888.

With files from On The Island

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