Help for the Holiday Blues-Anxiety, Loneliness, Stress

As the holidays are near, there are resources for people struggling with anxiety, depression, loneliness, isolation, and other stressors. The holidays can be both a time of joy and a period of stress for people, depending on their circumstances. Mental well-being is an important part of everyone’s overall good health, especially during the pandemic.

Mental Health

People who experience feelings of anxiety or depression may experience more distress during the holiday season than during non-holiday times. Given the challenges we are all currently facing, all Pennsylvanians should take extra care to be mindful of their mental health and tend to their overall health and wellness during this time. Check in with yourself, be honest about how you are feeling to yourself and your support network, and if you need someone to talk to or a little extra support, help is available.

“This year has challenged all of us in ways that we could not have anticipated, and whether you normally deal with feelings of depression or anxiety or you are experiencing these for the first time, your feelings are valid,” said Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller. “The holiday season and our family traditions will look different this year because it’s what we must do to keep each other safe, but there can be a grief that comes from that. No matter what you are feeling this year, please know that you do not have to endure it alone. Talk to your loved ones, talk to your support network, and don’t be afraid to make a call to resources that exist to help.”

DHS’ mental health support & referral helpline, Persevere PA, is available 24/7 and is a free resource staffed by skilled and compassionate caseworkers available to counsel Pennsylvanians struggling with anxiety and other challenging emotions. The helpline caseworkers can refer callers to community-based resources that can further help to meet individual needs. Pennsylvanians can contact Persevere PA at 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.

If you or someone you love is in crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available by calling 1-800-273-8255. The hotline is staffed 24/7 by trained counselors who can offer free, confidential support. Spanish speakers who need immediate assistance can call 1-888-628-9454. Help can also be accessed through the Crisis Text Line by texting “PA” to 741-741.

The Office of Advocacy and Reform (OAR) was established as part of Governor Wolf’s Reach Out PA initiative in July 2019. To date, OAR has established a plan to build a trauma-informed Pennsylvania by gathering a team of cutting-edge thinkers and practitioners in the field of trauma and how the brain heals from its effects to form a think tank. This volunteer group focused exclusively on setting guidelines and benchmarks for trauma-informed care across the commonwealth. Trauma-informed care needs to be included in the narrative about comprehensive mental wellness services and supports. OAR also hired the state’s first Child Advocate whose role is to help protect the state’s most vulnerable – another goal of the Reach Out PA initiative.

Substance Use Disorder

The holidays may also be difficult for individuals with a substance use disorder or people in recovery, especially if they become stressed by changes to their schedule or daily routine, are not able to see their support network in-person, have strained or non-existent relationships with family members, or are faced with potential triggers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most dangerous time of the year for substance use and alcohol-related deaths are around the holiday months.

“We understand how difficult it is not being together with our loved ones during the holidays. However, it is essential that we stop all gatherings, even small gatherings, to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Ray Barishansky, deputy secretary for health preparedness and community protection at the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “We must not lose sight, however, of the opioid epidemic that still rages on in our communities. This is the time to enhance prevention and rescue strategies to be sure this trend does not continue. Together, we can all help each other.”

The Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs also maintains a toll-free helpline that connects callers looking for treatment options for themselves or a loved one to resources in their community. You can reach the Get Help Now helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). The helpline is available 24/7 – including on Thanksgiving Day. An anonymous chat service offering the same information to individuals who may not be comfortable speaking on the phone is also available at www.ddap.pa.gov.

Naloxone is still available to all Pennsylvanians through Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine’s standing order, and carrying this on-hand at all times can be a life-saving action. The Wolf Administration encourages all Pennsylvanians to take advantage of the standing order to obtain Naloxone over the holidays. Learn more about how to obtain naloxone at www.pa.gov/opioids.

Older Pennsylvanians

Because the risk of COVID-19 is more acute among older Pennsylvanians, we must be diligent about protecting our older loved ones from potential exposure to the virus. This distance undoubtedly creates difficulties, but regular communication can help families stay connected while they are not able to be together in person.

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s Council on Aging (PCoA) recently released an interactive guide with information and resources to help older adults cultivate a healthy mind, body and spirit amidst the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The guide, titled “SOLO: Strengthening Older Lives Online,” was produced by PCoA’s Risk Reduction Committee, which is made up of older adults and was formed in response to the council’s State of Older Adults Report released in May 2020. The committee is an extension of the Social Isolation Task Force formed in 2019 to help mitigate social isolation among seniors.

“According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, from May to October of 2020, there was a 15 percent increase in the number of older adults who stated that their mental health has been negatively affected by COVID-19, with 25 percent of older adults stating that they feel anxiety or depression due to the pandemic,” said PCoA Executive Director Faith Haeussler. “The PCoA’s own survey of older adults during the pandemic told us they are looking for community connection and open to using more communication technology. SOLO was designed to empower older adults to address and manage the multiple stressors of COVID-19 affecting mental and physical well-being. The SOLO guide is a user-friendly self-empowering tool for older adults to access resources according to their own preferences and at their own pace.”

The SOLO guide is designed to go beyond some of the physical safety reminders during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using bold, color graphics, the guide incorporates ways for aging adults to combat some of the pervasive stressors exacerbated by the pandemic while helping them live their best lives.

Tools available in the guide include:

  • Activities and videos to help stay mentally, spiritually, and physically fit;
  • Resources available to assist with those three areas; and,
  • Short questionnaires to build active health plans.