Not Feeling the Joy

abelard-2_webDespite tidings of joy and happiness, for many the holidays are anything but. Depression is quite common this time of year according to Dr. Gabrielle Abelard ’97, ’01 MA. “We don’t talk about it enough, but it certainly affects many families.”

The holiday season can bring feelings of anxiety, loss, and loneliness. It can also be a time when people develop unrealistic expectations of themselves or others, contributing to depression.

“Current research suggests that depression is caused by a combination of biologic, genetic, environmental, and psychological factors,” explains Abelard. “Those especially at risk in our society are the elderly, veterans, current military personnel and their families, and those already dealing with mental health disorders.”

A doctorally prepared psychiatric advanced practice nurse with over 17 years of experience in mental health nursing, Abelard opened Abelard Psychotherapy & Associates in 2007. In addition to her private practice, she is also an assistant clinical professor with the UMass Amherst College of Nursing, having helped create its psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program in 2014. She points to some common warning signs of depression:

  • Loss of interest in daily routine
  • Loss of appetite
  • Change in sleeping habits
  • Becoming isolated
  • Feeling lost or empty
  • Feeling guilty, worthless, and/or helpless
  • Symptoms of fatigue or low energy
  •  Lack of eye contact
  • Headaches, body aches, or difficulty digesting food

In her practice, Abelard shares a number of techniques to cope with depression. “One thing I always stress with clients is to pay attention to being present and in the moment. And to be cognizant of self-care and wellness by getting adequate nutrition, sleep, hydration, and exercise if possible.”

“I also encourage people to really think about obtainable goals that are realistic and affordable,” she says. “Start with one goal that you can accomplish and then move on to the next. It’s nice to have a big picture but let’s start in one place on the canvas.”

Becoming informed and taking advantage of support services is also an important step toward mental wellness. Abelard recommends the following leading mental health organizations dedicated to making better lives for millions of Americans:

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“We hear about the stigma of mental health issues in our society, but it is a real thing,” notes Abelard. “Having the conversation about symptoms and what to do next is very important. I hope by providing some insights and links to resources, people will feel empowered to take the next step.”

By Elena Lamontagne, UMass Amherst Alumni Association

 

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