Viewpoint: Mental Health and the Holiday Season by JC Bowman

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Charles Dickens wrote in A Christmas Carol: “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!” If only that task was as easy to accomplish as the writer envisioned.


Unfortunately, the holidays are often a lonely time of the year. Memories of loved ones who have passed away often occupy our minds or distance may separate us from those we care about. These days, the absence of other loved ones, friends, or family is very often sad.

I have been there. Chances are you have been there too.

In Christmas 1983, I was spending Christmas courtesy of the United States Marine Corps at the luxurious accommodations provided at the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, Okinawa, Japan. I was a member of the Marine Air Support Squadron 2, nicknamed the “Pacific Vagabonds.” We were part of the Marine Air Control Group 18, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.  

It was perhaps the loneliest Christmas I had ever experienced. Personally, I had lost numerous family members and friends. Including my precious grandmother, Leona West Green.  My Grandmother was a 98-pound firecracker. It was from her that I learned my love of stories and of people. I had just turned twenty years old, and I was 7,700 miles from home.  Life is a cruel teacher. And I learned some hard life lessons.

 

One of the greatest gifts that we will receive this Christmas will come from people you may not even know.  People that serve us in the military, law enforcement, fire department, education, medical professionals, travel professionals, restaurant workers, etc.  All sacrifice their time to take care of our needs.

These people unselfishly sacrifice his/her life, both professionally and personally every day.” It can take a toll on your emotional well-being. I am extremely honored of being a key advocate for the $250 million mental health fund established with Governor Bill Lee, championed by Representatives Scott Cepicky, Mike Sparks, and other state policymakers. It was a signature legislation for the Lee Administration, often under fire for performance. Mental health care is greatly needed, not just during holidays.

 

Suicide is a major public health problem and a leading cause of death in the United States. The Veterans Administration reports that an average of 20 veterans succumbed to suicide every day. The 2020 data from the CDC, tells us 45,979 people took their own life. The number of suicides was higher in nine months during 2021 compared to 2020, with the largest increase occurring in October (+11%). The increase in suicides was higher among males (4%) than females (2%), as was the increase in the suicide rate (+3% for males and +2% for females). The largest increase in the rate of suicide occurred among males ages 15-24 – an 8% increase. Suicide rates also increased for males ages 25-34, 35-44, and 65-74. That is one death every 11 seconds. Any loss of life is a tragedy. No person is irreplaceable.   

People who commit suicide often do not consider the emotional consequences for survivors, their families, and friends. Thank you to all our American Troops for serving, especially during this holiday season. The mission is often thankless and the sacrifice unappreciated.


For depressed people, the holidays can be particularly difficult.  We experience added stress, loneliness, and reminders of those we have loved and lost. If you have thoughts of suicide, please get help immediately or call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1–800–273–TALK(8255),24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When you next find yourself in need of help, please ask someone.

One of the benefits of serving in education, we meet and become friends with so many people. Many of those friendships are lifelong relationships. Humans are not designed to live alone. We are by nature designed to live together in a community to reach our full potential. English poet John Donne wrote that “No man is an island.”  Our actions can influence everyone around us. Lasting relationships are perhaps the key to a happy life.

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Submitted by JC Bowman
JC Bowman is the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee