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When life gets hard this time of year, holiday depression is a real danger, particularly in Alabama. If you or someone you love is grieving, addicted, hungry, lonely, or in crisis, the holidays can be downright dismal. The good news is that Birmingham is a big-hearted city, and we have a number of great resources here to help you find your way through the darkness, including two “Blue Christmas” services.
“Alabama ranks third in prevalence of depression in the US out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that about 13% of people in Alabama, or 655,000 people in the state, and about 150,000 in the Birmingham metropolitan area, have clinically significant depressive symptoms,” according to Dr. Richard C. Shelton of the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He goes on to state that “the suicide rate in Alabama is 43% higher than in the U.S. population as a whole.”
If you are grieving
Grief takes many forms, whether you’ve lost someone close to you, have gone through a divorce, or have lost a beloved pet. Grief often accompanies life changes like a big move or an illness, communal tragedies like mass shootings, or private losses like miscarriage, and can certainly lead to holiday depression.
“The best way to cope with grief is to understand it.”Ada Holyfield, Volunteer for Community Grief Support’s Young Widows / Widowers Support Group (working age)
For adults 19 and over
Community Grief Support provides free counseling and support groups to adults 19 and up who have lost someone close to them. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a spouse, sibling or parent. According to volunteer Ada Holyfield, “We give education and tips on how to navigate grief in a healthy manner, as well as how to handle special days and holidays. Plus, the relationships you form with the other group members are like family.”
If you or someone you know could use this type of support, visit their website at or call 205-870-8667. They also have a rich resource library you can peruse on your own here.
When the loss involves a child or teenager
When loss involves a child or teenager, the Amelia Center at Children’s Hospital can help.
According to Matt Bunt, Education Coordinator and Counselor, “we serve parents who’ve experienced the death of a child; we also serve children and teens who have experienced the death of a loved one. This could be their brother, sister, best friend, parent, close grandparent – whatever relationship is important to them.”
When we talked about the holidays, he explained that “The holidays affect everyone. It can be such a painful time. There are often lots of traditions around family, and the person who is gone is supposed to be there.
Because thinking of the person not being there can be overwhelming, some people don’t want to celebrate at all.
At the same time, some do want to celebrate and include the one who’s gone by creating new traditions, such as sharing memories or lighting a special candle.
Some others want to do something completely different, such as going on a vacation instead of sitting around having dinner at the table like they used to do.
We help people come up with a plan – it doesn’t have to be what they’ve always done, and it doesn’t have to be completely different, either. There’s no right or wrong – we just help people figure out what they need to do to get through the holidays.”
The Amelia Center offers counseling free of charge, and you don’t need a referral. If you or someone you love could use this support, visit their website here, then call 205-638-7481 to set up an intake appointment. The family resources section on their website has a useful section on how to talk with kids about death.
If you – or someone you love – is addicted
Addictions can range from alcohol to Xanax, and the effects on everyone involved can range from mild to catastrophic. Fortunately, there are a number of resources here in Birmingham that can help so you can avoid holiday depression – or worse.
I reached out to David Palaia, a counselor in private practice who “runs [Bradford’s] chronic pain track and does individual trauma / PTSD treatment in residential addiction treatment.”
“There are abundant resources for addicted and families either through traditional treatment routes (such as UAB or Bradford) or with therapists that have addiction experience/training,” David said.
“Usually the hardest thing is for someone who is addicted to reach out.”David Palaia, LPC, NCC
You can also reach out to the Recovery Resource Center of Jefferson County. Call 205-458-3377, or visit their website to learn more.
David recommends that people who have lost a loved one to addiction reach out to grief support resources like the ones mentioned above, or they can look for individual, couples, or family counseling with someone with the appropriate experience on Psychology Today’s website.
Twelve-step support groups such as Al Anon can be helpful for family members, and groups such as Refuge Recovery, which meets at the Shambhala Center, can provide a nice alternative to traditional 12-step groups.
According to David, “Bradford Health Services offers a family program that anyone from the community is welcome to join if they contact the Birmingham Regional office at 800-293-7191.”
If you are hungry
With 1 out of 4 children in Alabama going to bed hungry each night, according to Feeding America, you don’t have to look hard to find families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet. Hunger and the inability to make ends meet can definitely lead to holiday depression.
According to Kathryn Strickland, Executive Director of the Community Food Bank of Central Alabama, “we witness the stark choices families make between paying for food and other basic needs such as utilities or medicine year-round – not just during the holidays. Many people are working one or two jobs and still struggle to make ends meet. People tend to pay bills such as the rent first and then do not have any funds left for food. It is particularly stressful during the holidays when families traditionally gather together over hearty meals.”
If you find yourself needing food, call 2-1-1 for help with food and other services.
If you are in crisis
“We all face personal crisis at some point in our lives, and we may need a safe place to turn when that crisis happens. The Crisis Center is there to support you through your crisis, no matter how big or small, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”Janet Simpson-Templin, The Crisis Centers Director of Development and Communications
The Crisis Center has a number of ways to help people in their time of need. Two particular areas where they see an increase in need during the holidays are with senior citizens, and with people who call their crisis and suicide prevention line. Please help them reach the people who need them by sharing this article with them.
For seniors and caregivers, the holidays can be a very difficult time, according to The Crisis Center‘s program staff. “Many of them deal with loneliness throughout the year, and people often feel even lonelier during the holidays. Many seniors that we talk to on the Senior Talk Line have lost spouses, siblings, friends, and even children, and the holidays can be a real reminder of these losses. Depression often also increases during the holidays as well.”
Senior Talk Line
The Crisis Center’s Senior Talk Line tries “to help people through our supportive phone calls. Having someone who takes the time to listen and to care can really make a difference. Being able to share about feelings can really help. It can also help to share that these are normal feelings and that many people have a difficult time during the holidays.”
If you or someone you love would like to be a part of the Senior Talk Line, where a volunteer calls three times a week, call 205-328-8255 and request to sign up. You can also find more information on their website.
Suicide Prevention Line
The Crisis Center’s Crisis Line also hears from people ” who are sometimes estranged from their families or maybe grieving the death of a loved one, especially if it’s the first holiday without the person they’ve lost.” Under these circumstances, people can sometimes begin to feel suicidal. It can make all the difference to reach out and connect with someone who can listen, understand, and offer support.
Contact the Crisis + Suicide Prevention Line at 205-323-7777 if you are in crisis, or if you are trying to help someone who is in crisis.
If you want to gather with others
“Winter holidays are marketed around togetherness with family. Togetherness is difficult for many families, due to loss, distance, mental illness, or past trauma. Offering healing spaces and encouraging other equally viable ways to spend the holidays can guide folks through this time.”Rev. Julie Conrady, Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham
The Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham will be offering a “Blue Christmas Service” on Sunday, December 16th at 5 pm. All are welcome to attend, regardless of who they are, who they love, or what they believe. The church is located at 4300 Hampton Heights Drive, Birmingham, AL 35209.
East Lake United Methodist Church is also offering a Blue Christmas Service on Thursday, December 20th. The church is located at 7753 1st Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35206. Call 205-836-3201 for details.
Whether you’re struggling with loss, dealing with addiction, having trouble feeding your family or yourself, or feeling lonely or in crisis, Birmingham has many hands and hearts ready and willing to help. You are not alone, and your suffering doesn’t have to lead to holiday depression. Reach out for support, and let someone make a difference in your life. Attend a Blue Christmas service, or call a friend and ask to spend some time together. Share this article with someone who’s struggling, and let them know you care. Whatever action you take, it will make a difficult holiday season brighter.