Fighting Holiday Depression Amid Limited Psychiatric Availability

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (KNWA)– Here in Northwest Arkansas, as holiday depression grows, so does the line to get help. 

The National Alliance on Mental Illness says over half of people with mental illness report holidays make their conditions worse.

But, one psychiatric center in Fayetteville reports a waiting period of six to nine months.

However, just because you can’t book a psychiatric appointment, doesn’t mean you’re out of luck.

Meet Dr. Margaret Rutherford. She’s a clinical psychologist in Fayetteville who understands the problem of limited psychiatry in the area.

She said, “It’s a huge concern in Northwest Arkansas.”

She also knows holidays are hard on Arkansans because 70 percent of her patients have more difficulty during the holidays. 

Dr. Rutherford said, “It’s a very common feeling to feel like when it gets colder or when you see the leaves start to turn, that you just get this sense of unhappiness or despondency.”

She said the key reason behind holiday depression is the fact that “we can get so immersed in doing everything we’re supposed to do at the holidays that it can be such pressure that you don’t enjoy it anymore.”

A pressure that causes you to feel like you always need to be improving.

“We distinctly remember what our Thanksgivings, our Hanukkahs our Christmases were like, what our New Year’s Eve’s were like, and so it gives us a more tangible marker of where we’ve been, where we thought we might be and where we actually are, and that can be kind of difficult to deal with at times,” she said.

This problem doesn’t just effect adults.

Michael Flowers, Clinical Director of the non-profit Youth Bridge in Springdale, says he’s seeing kids turn blue during the holiday season as well.

Flowers said, “The kids definitely feel it. It makes them feel less safe and less comfortable because they don’t know what to do during a normal time of celebration.”

Both experts agree that the way to solve this issue is to have a realistic view of what the holidays have in store.

But, that may mean more than just changing expectations.

That’s where Mary Alice Serafini with the University of Arkansas steps in.

“We just try to have as broad of base as we can to deal with what students are dealing with,” said Serafini, Executive Director of the Pat Walker Health Center.

The school has a 24-hour emergency hotline to assist when its psychiatrists and psychologists aren’t available. 

But, if a student needs more than a phone conversation, Serafini’s team has staff on call available to help.

She said, “We want to make sure there’s a safety net all through the year, 365 days out of the year.”

Even if you’re not a student, there are other resources to ease the holiday struggle.

You can visit an acute psychiatric hospital, where you can get access to help as early as the next day. 

Dr. Rutherford also says people facing depression can reach out to a family doctor, who may be able to prescribe medication when therapy isn’t enough.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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