The holidays can be a joyful time full of family, friends, gift-giving and cheer. But for those who are struggling with substance use and other mental health issues, this time of year can be particularly stressful and anxiety-provoking. The pressures associated with the holidays and encounters with family members or reminders of past traumas can create situations when an individual’s usual coping strategies and skills may not be as effective. Intense emotional triggers can quickly override some hard-won recovery gains and as a result, the risk of relapse or increased substance use during this time of year can be very high.
There are a few simple measures that health professionals can take to help support clients during the holidays.
In addition to ensuring that individuals continue to have the proper prescriptions and access to the medications they require over the holidays, practitioners will need to be particularly aware of the psychosocial situation of patients during the holidays and make note of an individual’s family or social supports. Isolation and loneliness are acute risks for relapse and increased substance use. Encouraging individuals to take advantage of drop-in groups, such as AA, or other community agency programming available at this time of year may be useful.
Additionally, individuals who have already been diagnosed with depression, or are experiencing low mood during this time of year, may also be at particular risk of relapse, and significantly, at risk for potential self-harm. Practitioners are urged to conduct thorough assessments of mood and affect, as well as for psychosocial supports, and continue to encourage individuals to engage with positive coping strategies.
Individuals may also benefit from safety planning – which may involve everything from contacting a trusted family member or friend at times of distress to presenting themselves at a medical facility or to calling 911. It is important that practitioners express the importance of staying safe and encouraging individuals to make very specific safety plans that are daily, event-specific, actionable and easy to execute.
Moreover, it is important to ensure that individuals are given information about the 24-hour distress lines available within their communities or geographic areas. These numbers are toll-free and can connect individuals to the proper services as necessary.
For example, individuals can access:
- in Toronto, the Toronto Distress Centre at 416-408-HELP (4357)
- in North Bay, the 24-hr North Bay Crisis line at 705-474-1031
- across Ontario and Canada, the Kids Help Line is available 24/7 at 1-800-668-6868, and
- an online and texting service through Distress and Crisis Ontario (in the beginning phase of its launch) by texting 741741 between the hours of 2pm and 2am daily.
ConnexOntario (1-866-531-2600) is also available for individuals who are ready to explore treatment options.
And finally, to our practitioners across all RAAM clinics in Ontario, we at META:PHI are wishing you the very best for a healthy and safe holiday.