A Focus on Mental Health This Holiday Season

For some the holidays are a fun and festive time spent connecting with family and friends. While, for others it can be one of the most difficult times of the year filled with stress, anxiety, and depression. High expectations of providing the perfect holiday experience for loved ones mixed with the busyness of the final days of the year can make it hard for many to cope, resulting in a decline in mental health.

At United Way of Metro Chicago, we recognize this struggle, and partner with agencies throughout the Chicago region who offer comprehensive mental health services, such as Esperanza Health Centers. Located in our Little Village Neighborhood Network. Esperanza serves a large Latino immigrant population. Families who live in Esperanza’s service area often experience significant economic, educational, and health disparities and more than 53 percent of residents live below twice the poverty level. According to Jessica Boland (LCSW), Director of Behavioral Health, the holidays can be very triggering for many of their patients. “Whether you are a victim of abuse, have lost a love one due to violence, or are separated from family, this time of year can bring those traumas to the forefront,” said Boland.

Many immigrant families have children who are still living in their country of origin. As the holiday season approaches, memories of times spent together in the past can become overwhelming for these separated families, particularly the women. “Due to financial constraints these women are not able to visit or send gifts to their children,” said Boland. The idea that their child or loved one will be spending the holidays without a gift or their company can cause depression, and feelings of hopelessness. As a result, these women in the community often struggle with symptoms commonly associated with depression.

Esperanza Health Centers focuses on providing relief to residents in the community who experience these painful feelings over the holidays. Professionals step in by assessing the needs and following through with a course of action that’s unique to each person’s needs. Boland said one of the most successful programs they offer places individuals who are separated from loved ones together for group therapy with mental health counselors. People feel supported by hearing others stories that mirror their own, and connecting with others in their community who are experiencing similar trauma. “One of the main symptoms of depression is feelings of shame and guilt,” said Boland. “Success comes when patients realize they are not alone and it is not their fault.”

Many families are anticipating a fun filled holiday season spent with those they love, but some of their neighbors may not experience this same joy. However thanks to the work of Esperanza Health Centers and other similar agencies in the Chicago region, they don’t have to feel alone. United Way is proud to partner with Esperanza to ensure residents in our Little Village Neighborhood Network have access to quality mental health care.

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