For most people, the holiday season brings the promise of joy, peace and love. But for many, the season can trigger sadness, stress, or even a more serious depression.
“Holiday depression is a very real problem for many people,” says psychiatrist Ryan Patel, DO, with Advocate Medical Group – Behavioral Health in Normal. Dr. Patel says there are a number of factors that contribute to the risk of the “blues” or even a more serious depression at this time of year. “There may be unreasonable expectations that something good will happen,” he says. “Sometimes these feelings could be shaped in early childhood, when the holidays were viewed as truly a magical time. Our adult experience can often be different than that.”
He notes that the season is further complicated by the fact that diminished amounts of sunlight during winter can affect one’s mood, even contributing to a condition called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The National Mental Health Association estimates that as many as one in six Americans suffer from SAD, with as many as 25% reporting “not feeling great” during the winter months.
“There may be other medical conditions contributing to depression as well,” says Dr. Patel, adding that a thorough medical evaluation by a psychiatrist is warranted if symptoms are severe or treatment response is not as expected.
Dr. Patel emphasizes that depression can be a serious problem, one that may require medical treatment. Awareness is the first step. “It’s important to be familiar with the signs and symptoms that may signal depression,” he says. They include:
• Loss of appetite; weight gain or loss
• Irritability, explosive outbursts
• Lack of interest or enjoyment in activities, especially those that once brought pleasure
• Lack of energy
• Poor concentration
• Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
He says that professional help is indicated for those experiencing several of these symptoms for a period of about two weeks. “A call to your primary care physician should be the first step in getting the help needed,” he says. “Your primary care physician may determine that a referral to a psychiatrist may be necessary”
Remember the “A” List
Dr. Patel emphasizes that there are ways to prevent and address holiday depression. He recommends following the “A” list for a healthy holiday:
• Awareness: be aware of how you’re feeling—knowing the signs of depression is very important
• Activity: physical exercise, especially, can help offset the effects of depression and stress
• Avoid isolation: seek out family and friends to talk to and spend time with
• Avoid excessive alcohol and caffeine.
• Ask for help: seek professional help if necessary. If you are suffering signs of depression, call your doctor. Health professionals are skilled at assisting people with depression and can connect you with resources that can help. If having thoughts of self-harm, call 911 or go to the nearest ER.