(Content Warning: Suicide, Depression)
Valentine's Day, like many holidays, gets quite a lot of attention each year, to the point of painting the month they’re set in a certain shade; in February's case, pink and red. We see commercials across television and on the internet adorned in hearts, in (sometimes ironic) appreciation for the season. In the hallways of student housing, the call for ordering a candy gram for your sweetheart rings out, and while not really being a viable option this year, oftentimes there are notices for upcoming dances and parties themed around romance. Flowers, cards, and sweets suddenly become hot ticket items out of grocery stores and supermarkets, and restaurants roll out their special couples discounts. Above all else, a certain mood seems to become prevalent over all aspects of life, an expectation even. At this time of year, you’re supposed to be with someone you love, or ready to confess your feelings to a crush. One way or another, you should be with someone.
But not all of us are, nor want to be.
The commercialized aspects of the “Hallmark holiday” put off many, but for those struggling with heartbreak, loneliness, and/or depression, it’s not an issue that can be merely ignored. Valentine's Day can be a rough time for many, including this writer. When it feels like everyone else we know or see has someone to be with during this time, it can make ugly questions appear in the mind. Just for a few examples: “Why am I always alone?” “Am I ugly?” “Why don’t he/she/they want to be with me?” “What are my friends thinking about me?” “Am I unworthy of love and affection?” “Does anyone care?”
It doesn’t help that this day set on the calendar to be dedicated to a significant other comes in the throes of winter, especially for Alaskans; the darkness and cold and bleakness of surroundings being shown in many studies to affect mental health for the worse. There’s also the issue of a struggle only known by our generation; COVID-19. Never before, at least in the lifetime of most University students, has so much necessary distance been put between ourselves and others. Long periods of isolation and uncertainty about the safety of interacting with the outside world along with the aforementioned conditions can compound along with other causes for depression, and the artificial expectations of this holiday can be the final jab that drives people to self-harm and suicide.
These feelings aren’t unnatural, nor do they make you weak. They can be managed, and several methods of healing that experts recommend for navigating this holiday with mental health at the focus. These include:
1. Stay off of social media for the day or however long you might need- A big detriment to our esteem comes from comparing our lives to the aspects others put out about themselves. This can be an issue in using social media in general, so it’s always a benefit to log out or turn off if feelings of doubt start creeping in.
2. Focus on other types of love - Love isn’t just romantic. It can come from the love of a family member, or a good friend, or even a pet. These are all equally valid and should be celebrated. Even if, for example, it isn’t possible to meet up with your friends, starting up a call with them is a great way to prevent lonely feelings from sprouting.
3. Love yourself - The most important love is self-love, and while it certainly may not be as easy as it is to say at times, staying affirmative and positive about who you are can bring satisfaction like very little else. Make yourself a meal, buy a “candy gram” for yourself, enjoy your favorite hobby, have a spa day, meditate; anything that brings you joy and that’s within your means is more than enough to make the holiday one to feel satisfied with.
4. Reach out - If you know someone who may be feeling lonely during this time of year, or seems to be dealing with thoughts of depression, try and let them know that you’re there for them. It doesn’t need to be an invitation for an activity, a simple call or text can make all the difference.
If these feelings are severe and persistent, professional help is recommended. On-campus resources include the UAA Student Health and Crisis center at 907-786-4040 and the Psychological Services Center at 907-786-1795. If you or someone you know is in a moment of crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).