The holiday season is upon us. Thanksgiving is now a blurred memory. Hanukkah begins in a few days, and yes, there are less than two weeks to Christmas. With the coming of the seasons’ festivities, good words like family, cheer, love, joy, festivity, lights, decorations, and food nourish and sustain us. For some, however, these are tough days. Many people—some of your clients and close friends—struggle through the holiday. For those who suffer from depression, this season can be lethal.
Depression is an illness that requires professional support. For many, carefully prescribed medication gets them through the challenges of daily living. Sometimes, however, depression goes malignant taking a person into a mental and emotional state that ends tragically in suicide.
When a client or a client’s family member takes his or her life, we can be stunned into either inactivity or silence. Even thinking or saying the word “suicide” can numb us so we don’t know what to do or say much less how to reach out to those we serve.
We read more about suicide today, especially among our young. We have learned that understanding and taking care of our mental health is just as important as diet, exercise, and periodic visits to our doctors. Our clients and colleagues who struggle with depression and its related illnesses like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia face issues none of us can imagine.
When you suspect a colleague or client is struggling, what can you do? What follows are three suggested responses.
First, offer the gift of presence. What hurting people need from us is not our commentary or explanation or even well-meaning clichés. Your presence may very well be the best present. Find a way to reach out to your client, look into their eyes as you place a caring hand on their shoulder, and share that you are there to offer support. Hurting people never forget a heartfelt gesture. Simply show up.
Second, should you learn of a suicide, focus on the living without going silent about the deceased. Your client may need to offer an explanation. You can say to them in an affirming way, “I sense overwhelming pain. I’m here because I care about you.” A family that has a parent, child, or relative who has struggled with depression knows a brutal anguish the rest of us cannot imagine. As you listen with love, let them know there is much living beyond this moment and that you will be there for them.
Third, in this holiday season, find ways to reach out. Be intentional, scheduling a call so you don’t forget as these crowded days clamor for your attention. Whether it’s someone dealing with depression or a family’s coping with death, healing takes time: weeks, months, and sometimes years. When it comes to suicide, grief can become a tenured resident that will not be evicted. Be mindful of that possibility.
The holidays can be the most difficult season of the year. Some of those people are your clients. While other advisors look the other way immobilized by fear, you be the professional who knows your clients so well, you show up offering tender, personal gestures of care, support, and love.