Support our mission

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — It’s that special bright and perky, cheerful time of year — sleigh bells jingling, halls getting decked, trees all trimmed.

But for some, the holidays can be a dreaded time filled with depression, stress, agitation, fatigue and plain old down-and-out gloom. They call it the “holiday blues.”

Servicemembers and others stationed overseas are not exempt. They must adjust to spending holidays in a foreign land, away from family and close friends.

“Our expectations for the holidays are simply too high,” said Cmdr. Harry W. Griffith, Sasebo’s command chaplain. “We think we have to do everything and things can begin to seem bigger than life.”

Griffith and Lt. Norbert Karava, also a base chaplain, shared thoughts about the dark feelings associated with holiday blues last week. Both also have years of training and experience in counseling individuals and groups.

Both say the holidays tend to be full of reminders, sometimes causing people to focus on issues such as unresolved grief and past losses, a contrast between “then” and “now,” disappointment in their current station in life and feelings of isolation and loneliness.

The pace contributes. There are more functions to attend, all that shopping, heavier traffic (and less parking), bustling crowds and long waits. Overall, there are above-normal demands on our time, attention, energy and budgets.

“Some people get the holiday blues in conjunction with the hectic pace of it all. They just get worn out and emotionally spent,” Griffith said.

In extreme cases of depression, he said, suicide can result.

Last week, Griffith conducted a military training workshop on depression and suicide prevention for all assigned to the base command. About 300 people gathered in the Community and Education Center auditorium to learn what signals a potential suicide, and how to respond.

Griffith said that of the many he’s counseled who are considering suicide, most have other problems that can be resolved — but for some reason, they’ve come to believe they have no hope.

“The interesting thing is that … the likelihood of them committing suicide around Christmas is quite low,” Griffith said. “Serious potential suicides this time of year will usually wait until after the New Year.

“They don’t want to be remembered as the one who ruined the Christmas holidays of their family and others they are close to.”

Karava said the military does what it can to make holidays pleasant for servicemembers overseas but for some, he said, the celebrations have an institutionalized, almost artificial flavor.

Surface appearances would seem to suggest that people in the military, constantly surrounded by other members of their units, do not face loneliness.

Those appearances can be misleading, Karava said.

“By its very nature the military is an institution. The military as an institution to them becomes a surrogate family.

“However, for whatever reasons, especially during the holidays and especially during Christmas, it seems the artificiality of that arrangement breaks down,” he said.

“I view a holiday as a privileged moment, and therefore a challenge,” he said. “During the holidays, we’re put under pressure to view life on its own terms, looking at what we have and what we don’t have. ”

During the year, Karava added, people tend to stay busy with their occupations, avocations and social lives. But staying preoccupied also lets people avoid confronting any of their own emotional insufficiencies, he said.

“During the holidays, suddenly we aren’t driven anymore. We’re left with, ‘OK. Now here you are. What are you? What are you going to do with yourself?’”

But these questions provide an opportunity to plan how to replenish one’s life, he suggested. “It’s good that you are seeing it now.”


Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up