NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) —Depression is a reality for many of us during the holiday season. The brightness of the holiday lights can be a striking juxtaposition, alongside a more serious undertone of how many people feel during the holidays. A survey done earlier in the year found 55 percent of Americans experience some king of holiday blues. For people who are already dealing with depression, the holiday season can worsen those feelings.

Dr. Dana Labat is a licensed clinical psychologist in the New Orleans area and believes there are many reasons why people are depressed during the holidays. She also says she notices higher numbers in recent years, saying, “it’s a difficult time of year. Regardless about what advertisements say about it being a wonderful time of year, a lot of times people feel loneliness, or experience reminders of loss. We’ve lost a lot of people, within the last three years. A lot of people have lost jobs or are losing homes. It’s important not to minimize the impact of what people’s individual experiences have been.”

Mercy Ukpolo is a motivational speaker and one who has dealt with bouts of depression throughout her life. Last year, her depression was intensified after suffering a near-fatal stroke.

“In truth, I felt ashamed to reach out to my loved ones, my friends, my coworkers, my boss. During this time of the year, it’s always difficult. I like the rest of the world struggled in silence,” says Mercy.

A year ago, Mercy entered living room. A loved one noticed her speech and movements were irregular. As the time progressed, her symptoms worsened and it was found that she had a blood clot disorder that had caused a major stroke.

As time went by, she became more depressed as she was not able to do all of the things she was able to do before. However, in an inspiring move, her stroke, became a catalyst for helping her manage a life-long fight with depression.

Mercy now uses her website to motivate others to keep going, provide advocacy for mental health awareness and give people a chance to check in on her recovery progress.

Mercy believes her faith and her love of cooking is what kept her hopeful during the multiple therapy sessions to improve her motor skills, and mental focus, saying, “one of the things I’ve always loved is cooking. It took me about four months to do basic things such as making coffee. There are so many different ways to eat Nigerian food and one of the things we do is use our hands for certain foods such as egusi soup.

Mental health professionals say there are many ways to combat depression that can include finding a refuge in positive activities that make us happy. For Mercy, that activity was cooking.

Dr. Labat, says it is important that as people fight through depression, they remember to put compassion over self-criticism and set realistic expectations and goals financially or otherwise. If finances are the source of stress, Christmas gifts might not need to be a priority. Dr. Labat also wants people to remember to reach out to their loved ones during this time.

In addition to other things mentioned, Dr. Labat says “turn off social media. If you are spending a lot of time scrolling and seeing people’s highlight reels and how wonderful their holiday season is, turn it off. It might not be doing you any good.”

Mercy believes many people feel ashamed to reach out because of a societal stigma that minimizes mental health, saying “I just want to be a help to other people to know that they are not alone.”

Dr. Dana Labat encourages people who are experiencing financial hardship, to consider replacing gift-giving with giving a gift of their time or service. A phone call or text can serve as a well-placed and meaningful check in, worth it’s weight in gold. To receive help and learn more about mental health resources, check out Dr. Dana Labat.

Mercy is passionately working to bring more attention and advocacy to mental health awareness at both the State and Federal level. She is currently reaching out to Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, hoping to obtain more programming and resources. To follow Mercy in her recovery and on her mission of motivating others with her story, check out her website Mercy Motivates.