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Holiday Grief Is Natural But Should Be Addressed, Expert Says

We have all heard of the “holiday blues,” but until you or a loved one actually experiences them you might think it is more something of myth than of reality.

“Everyone at times can experience grief around the holidays,” said Anna Boettcher, Medical Director of Community Psychiatry at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System. “Just because of those warm thoughts and if those expectations are not met … then it can be a depressing time of year for some people.”

According to Boettcher, about 25 percent of all Americans will experience “complicated grief” some time in their lives.  One in ten of us have experienced a death in the family in the last 12 months.

The death of a loved one, divorce, loss of job or change in community can all trigger grief or depression.  Especially around the holidays.

“It does not necessarily mean that you are clinically depressed and need medication,” Boettcher said. “But support groups, therapy, being active in your church or community organizations can be really helpful in getting through those phases and feelings."

Understanding that the feelings are normal and that it is all part of a process is often the most important first step in dealing with the issue.

“You need to let yourself go through the process and not use substances or alcohol," Boettcher said. "That’s not going to help … it usually just keeps you stuck at a certain spot in the grieving process.”

She also recommends that you plan ahead by attending group therapy sessions or setting up events with friends or family if you think this might be a hard time of year. 

But not everyone is ready to get help themselves or is even aware of what they are going through. That is when family, friends and co-workers need to get involved.

Knowing they have had a stressful event in their lives might help you identify someone who is struggling with grief, but Boettcher said you should also watch out for people missing work, changing their normal behavior and possibly being irritable or overly sad should trigger you to ask a few questions.

Boettcher suggests open-ended questions such as, “I’m noticing this, what’s going on?”

And try to ask “what” questions rather than “why” questions like “what is happening in your life?”

“I always think ‘why’ questions, ‘Why are you acting this way?’ puts people on the defensive,” Boettcher said.

Boettcher says anyone can get help with or without an appointment at Pittsburgh Mercy Health System by walking in to 264 S. 9th St. on the South Side or by calling 877-637-2924.

Help is also available at The Good Grief Center at 2717 Murray Ave. in Pittsburgh or at 412-224-4700.

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