For many, this time of year is happy and festive. But it's important to remember how difficult and stressful it can be for others.
So I want to talk about something that remains rather taboo in our society.
Depression. Mental health. And suicide.
You likely saw the tragic story last week of three Canadian soldiers -- two with Manitoba links -- ending their lives within a few days.
There's nothing to suggest a connection between the incidents, other than timing. But it has put these often stigmatized topics back in the news, at least for a few days.
From my perspective, these are not issues that will go away any time soon. Nor should they. We should talk about them openly and honestly.
There is a personal side of this as well, something that happened last week that didn't make any newspaper headlines. I don't want to get into many specific details, because I want to protect the privacy of those involved and most affected.
But I want to share a little because I think there is an important message here worth communicating.
It's no secret we live in a time of Facebook profiles, Instagram photos, Tweets and many other forms of social media. We have our phones attached at the hip. In many ways, you could say we're more connected than ever. These days, there's really no excuse for not being able to get hold of somebody and talk to them instantly.
But many have observed we're actually more distant than ever, more disconnected from each other than we've ever been.
If you're on Facebook, you may have hundreds of "friends." Or perhaps thousands. But do you really know them, apart from what they put out there for you to see and the image they create?
Where am I going with this? Well, last week, myself and many other friends -- the social media kind, and some "real life" kind -- were troubled to see a Facebook post by someone we knew.
It spoke of wanting to end it all. Of some particular circumstances he found himself in. Suffice to say, life had not been easy in recent days and weeks for this friend.
I must admit, this was someone I knew much better in a previous time. I had lost track. This was someone, like so many other people who come and go from your life, that I really only kept track of through social media. I'd see the occasional post, an update, a picture. And then I'd move on.
That's not to say there weren't others who were more involved in his life, those who were more acutely aware of what was going on. And as I've come to learn, it was not a good situation to the say the least.
However, this posting on Facebook had all of us alarmed. It struck us as a suicide note. Many who saw it immediately contacted the authorities.
Sure, many of us wondered initially whether this was an overreaction on our part. Some probably thought, "Boy, this is going to be embarrassing if it turns out to be nothing."
It turned out this was much more than a cry for help. Our friend followed through. He ended his life.
Help came, but it was too late. He was gone.
And all who knew him were devastated.
In the days that have followed, many of us have been chatting. In real life. And yes, through social media.
There are many questions. Could anyone have stopped this? Could anything have been done differently? How can we stop something like this from happening again?
There are no easy answers. And I suspect many will be asking themselves this for the foreseeable future.
Words are hard to come by. But many of us keep arriving at some of the same basic sentiments, ones I feel are too important to ignore.
Be kind to each other. Don't be afraid to reach out and offer a helping hand. Or a listening ear. Don't just assume everyone you know is "OK." Don't be so absorbed in your own life you forget to ask -- and ask to truly find out -- "How are you?"
It's funny, that has become a standard greeting, hasn't it? How are you? But do we ever truly listen to the answer? I would suggest most of us do not.
Now, by the same token, do we ever answer that question truthfully? I'm OK. Things are good. That's what people will often say in response.
The truth is often much different.
It's a very complex issue. And there are always so many victims. In our friend's case, I think of his family. His children. So many others who care, and have now been left to wonder whether there was any way to avoid this awful outcome.
As mentioned, this can be a very dark and difficult time for many. Sometimes one's pain, and their struggles, is not as obvious and apparent as we'd like it to be. And a simple "How are you" or perusal of a Facebook status really isn't enough.
Reach out. Pick up a phone. Make a coffee date. Be that supportive friend. If you sense someone is in need of help, don't be afraid to act.
If there's nothing to it, the worst you will be accused of is caring too much. Ignoring potential warning signs will only lead to endless what ifs.
After what happened last week, I will always err on the side of caution. I'd rather be wrong and maybe slightly embarrassed than ignore, do nothing and be filled with a lifetime of regrets.
Keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open. Most importantly, keep your hearts open. There are many people out there who are hurting.