It’s not unusual for people to become depressed during the holidays. The nonprofit association Mental Health America says many factors play a part, including stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, financial concerns, being separated from family or, conversely, experiencing too many demands related to family gatherings or an overburdened schedule.
Shorter days and longer nights can also play a role. People with seasonal affective disorder often display symptoms of depression this time of year.
Informally, individuals can help by doing what you can to simplify the holidays. You might suggest limiting gift-giving (and thus shopping) to one gift for each other, and, if you have children, fewer gifts than usual for them.
Cut back on time commitments, as well – you don’t have to attend every party you’re invited to. Talk with your spouse or partner about which functions would be most enjoyable, and say “no, thanks” to the rest.
It may also be a good idea to plan some type of physical activity. Getting exercise can reduce stress and help provide a feeling of well-being. Try to plan a time when you can take a walk outdoors or at the mall – early, before the shoppers arrive.
Everyone occasionally feels down in the dumps, but depression lingers and interferes with daily life. Recognize the symptoms, which, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include:
Ongoing sad, anxious or empty feelings.
Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.
Feeling irritable, restless or constantly tired.
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were once enjoyable.
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details or making decisions.
Change in sleeping habits (inability to go to sleep or stay asleep, or sleeping all the time).
Change in eating habits (overeating or loss of appetite).
Ongoing aches, pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems.
Thoughts of suicide or making suicide attempts (call a crisis center or 9-1-1 if an attempt seems imminent; do not leave the person alone).
Fortunately, depression is treatable. The problem is that people who feel hopeless, irritable or fatigued may not have the motivation to make an appointment to see their doctor.
The Mayo Clinic offers ideas on how to help someone with depression. For details, go to the Mayo Clinic’s website at www.mayoclinic.com and search for “Depression: Supporting a family member or friend.” It’s not easy, because living with someone who is depressed is challenging in itself, but talking with him or her about the changes you’ve noticed and that you’re concerned is a good first step. If he or she is reluctant to see a doctor, ask that he do so if only to rule out depression or other medical problems.
You can’t cure depression or take complete ownership of someone else’s mental health, but by being supportive and reducing stress you can help.