It's been a long year and a half since the coronavirus pandemic began, and with the holiday season approaching, many are already feeling the holiday blues.
So a mental health advocate with NAMI Hillsborough helps navigate the stress that comes with this time of year, especially if you've lost a family member to COVID-19.
"A lot of our world is back to normal physically. We can get out. We're vaccinated. We've got masks. But emotionally and mentally, we're not doing well. We're not doing well at all," explained Natasha Pierre, a mental health advocate for NAMI Hillsborough.
Pierre worries the next crisis will be our country's mental well-being.
"It's not just the pandemic fatigue. It's like, I'm just tired of life. Can we hit pause for a minute and allow everyone just to recalibrate and reset and exhale? We haven't had a moment to exhale," she said.
Pierre said NAMI Hillsborough is still receiving an unprecedented number of calls from those still struggling and needing help. And she said the lingering effects of this long pandemic are hitting all ages and all sectors of life.
"I'm seeing everything from four-year-olds, who have extreme anxiety, all the way to seasoned accountants and attorneys that are just having a tough time with the added stress," she explained.
According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death right now for those 10 to 34 years old.
So Pierre encourages everyone to pay close attention to our children and young adults.
"I want parents to ensure that they're not missing opportunities for discussion. We need to talk. This is a time for courageous conversations, get comfortable with being uncomfortable," Pierre explained.
And if this is the first Thanksgiving or Christmas without a family member, who has passed away from COVID-19 or another medical issue, Pierre suggests each family talk about it and be respectful.
"Address the elephant. Talk about it. Recognize that people are going to deal with it differently. Some may want to talk. Some may not. And it's okay. There's no rules on how you process grief," she added.
But if you have a difficult time confiding in family members. Pierre said you should find your tribe, those you can relate to and lean on them.
"Knowing that you're not alone is more than having people around you. It's knowing that there are people who understand your experience, your thoughts, your emotions, how you feel, your responses. That's really what people need," she said.
Most importantly, don't isolate or withdraw during the holiday season because that can lead to even more anxiety and sadness. And Pierre warns if you're feeling hopeless, reach out because your life is worth it.
"As we go into the holidays, if you're anxious, if you're depressed, if you're feeling like, man, I should really be able to handle this. No, you've never lived through this time before. This is something new. This is something different. There is no manual, allow someone to support you," she pleaded.
NAMI Hillsborough offers many free services, including free support groups via zoom.
For more information, visit https://namihillsborough.org/.
And if you need help right away, you can call the NAMI helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or text NAMI to 741-741.
There's a trained crisis counselor standing by 24/7 to offer immediate support.