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In the Spotlight

Looking for Help When the Holidays Aren't Merry?

Man supporting a women

Holidays are not always the "merry and bright" events we often expect. For many people, including many Veterans, they can be downright depressing. The holiday season can trigger feelings of mourning, loss or loneliness. For some, episodes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can surface. For newly returning Veterans, the struggle to readjust to civilian life, find employment and establish social relationships can worsen at holiday time.

Dr. Ken Weingardt, a psychologist now at Northwestern University and previously with theDepartment of Veterans Affairs (VA), puts it simply. "The holidays promote this myth that everyone is having a warm, happy time basking in the love of family and friends. For Veterans who don't have this or are feeling off balance, this contrast creates a huge disconnect that can make them feel worse."

Because they are feeling pressured, Veterans may want to isolate themselves from friends and family. Avoiding emotions about past stressful events can lead to avoiding all emotions. Crowds can make a Veteran feel nervous and on edge, like they have to be on guard. Even when it is hard, being around others for support can improve things. Good help is available if these feelings continue.

Help is Available

"VA offers a full range of mental health services. Drop-in clinics, peer support programs, residential programs and medications are just a few," Weingardt says. Veterans who are dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health issues have many options for connecting and getting help.

Not sure you need help? Prefer to go it alone?

If you're not sure you need help, or just want to work through things on your own, VA also has resources to help you through the holidays and anytime.

Brief, anonymous, screening tests available on My HealtheVet can help determine whether you may have PTSD, Depression, or a substance use problem. is a set of self-help resources for the military and Veteran communities from the Department of Defense. It includes modules on such topics as Depression, Life Stress, Families and relationships.

If you are in crisis and need help now, VA stands ready to help. Visit You can connect with a licensed VA counselor by phone, instant message, or text messages, 24/7.

For mental health care, you can contact people who have years of experience in working with Veterans at your nearest VA Medical Center or community based outreach clinic. "The VA is required to help Veterans who reach out, and their mission is to make it easy for Veterans to find the services that are best for them." Weingardt says, "the VA Medical Center staff will work with you to decide what kind of help will work best."

These program locators can help you find the nearest VA facility, PTSD program, or Addiction Treatment program:

Good treatments are now available that can help. For more information see the Guide to VA Mental Health Services for Veterans & Families. (PDF)

If you are a combat Veteran, you can also get confidential help through the Vet Centers. Vet Centers are small, community based counseling centers staffed by combat Veterans who have "been there, done that" and want to help you make a successful transition from military to civilian life.

  • Call the 24/7 Veteran Combat Call Center 1-877-927-8387 (WAR-VETS) to talk to another combat Veteran.

  • Locate the nearest Vet Center

Make the Connection is a new website that helps connect Veterans and their friends and family members with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their health, well-being, and everyday lives. Hear inspiring stories of strength. Learn what has worked for other Veterans.

PTSD Coach Mobile App: If you have, or think you might have PTSD, this app is for you. The PTSD Coach mobile app (for iPhone and Android) can help you learn about and manage symptoms that commonly occur after trauma. Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work.

  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms.

  • Convenient, easy-to-use skills to help you handle stress symptoms.

  • Direct links to support and help.

  • Always with you when you need it.

Please note: Depression, Anxiety and PTSD are serious medical conditions that often require professional evaluation and treatment. These self-help resources are not intended to replace needed professional care. Remember, you don't have to go it alone: VA stands ready to help.

Updated December 12, 2016