This time of year presents an endless array of demands. Stress and depression can spoil the holidays and be harmful to your overall health. These can be difficult times for many in our community, but there are ways we can manage these stressors and engage with others to ensure they are feeling OK.

Connectedness is the degree to which an individual is socially close, interrelated, and supportive. Connectedness can be formed between individuals, families, neighborhoods, workplaces and community. It is a critical factor in reducing isolation, loneliness, suicide attempts and deaths.

Take a moment today to text a family member you have not spoken to in a while. Call a friend and invite them to an activity or volunteer for an organization you love. If you are missing someone this holiday you might chat with someone else who is missing them, too, and reflect on shared memories from the past.

Economic hardship is amplified during the holidays. Pressures might come from child care, employment, housing, transportation, education and more. Before you do your gift shopping, decide how much money you can afford to spend. Don’t try to buy happiness with an avalanche of gifts. Look for helpers in our community who can support individuals and families in need like Colorado Springs Utilities’ Project COPE or Food to Power’s no-cost grocery store.

Beyond the holidays, we know the end of year brings the pressure of final exams for youths. According to Mental Health First Aid, 1 in 5 teens has had a mental health disorder at some point in their life and that suicide is the second largest cause of death among adolescents 15-19.

Check in with your teen and offer them opportunities to talk and take a break with a movie or video chat with a friend. Encourage them to get a good night’s sleep and eat nutritious meals. The I Matter Colorado program connects school aged youth to 6 free counseling sessions at www.imattercolorado.org.

There has been a substantial outpouring of love and support for the LGBTQIA2+ community in the wake of the Club Q shootings. Clearly, events of this nature cause anxiety and depression, no matter the time of year.

As a priority population in the Suicide Prevention Collaborative’s efforts to prevent suicide, our LGBTQIA2+ neighbors deserve to feel safe. For those in this community, reach out for support and connection from organizations such as Inside Out Youth Services or someone you trust.

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Of the 176 deaths by suicide in 2021, 114 or 65% involved firearms. This is significantly higher than the national percentage of 50%. If a loved one is struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Ensure firearms are safely stored in a gun safe. Avoid activities that might involve firearms especially if someone seems depressed or is experiencing a situational crisis like a breakup or job loss.

Nearly a third of the suicides had a known active or prior military duty. There are resources available for veterans to connect to other veterans. Mount Carmel Veterans Service Center, multiple VFWs, the Veterans Affairs Administration and American Legion are a few places to find togetherness and shared experiences.

It’s OK to acknowledge your feelings. Holidays bring many “firsts” and “lasts” when grieving the loss of someone we loved. If a friend or family member has recently died or you can’t be with loved ones, realize that it’s normal to feel sadness and grief.

Take time to honor that person by displaying their picture in a prominent location in your home, go to a special Mass, eat their favorite dish or dessert. Acknowledging their absence is OK. They, too, should be celebrated.

If you feel lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events. They can offer support and companionship. Fight the urge to isolate.

Make some time for yourself. Go for a walk or listen to music. Spending just 15 minutes alone might refresh you enough to tackle everything on your to-do list.

Despite best efforts, you might find yourself feeling persistently sad or anxious, unable to sleep, hopeless, and unable to face routine chores. There is always a place to turn. The crisis hotline is available 24/7 at 1-844-493-8255 or text 38255. Or, dial 988 to reach the national crisis line.

Take steps to prevent stress and depression and lean on community this holiday season.

Cassandra Walton, Executive Director, Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention Partnership, and Chris Heberer, Chief of Police, City of Fountain, are the Co-Chairs of the Suicide Prevention Collaborative of El Paso County. Visit spcollab.org

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