Health professionals remind us that during the holidays, not everyone is filled with holiday spirit or in a celebratory mood. So-called ‘holiday blues’ can affect people for a variety of reasons, and should not be ignored.

Andrea Carlstrom, Chaffee County Public Health and Environmental Health Director said it is important to realize the stigma that often is accompanied with mental health issues.

The holidays can leave some people feeling depressed.

“For us, it is important that we connect with each other, connect with our neighbors and our friends and our support networks during the holiday season and also important to know what resources exist in our communities. We really do have an extensive network of mental health providers that are available for short and long term support,” said Carlstrom. “Connecting with one of those is extremely important, particularly if folks are feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day … a key factor too is someone losing interest in the activities someone once enjoyed.”

It may be a cause for concern, Carlstrom said if  someone isn’t enjoying the merriment of the holidays that they usually do. Being aware of such conditions, having the ability to ask the person how they’re feeling (instead of just turning away) and offering to help will make a difference.

“There are so many different ways that we as a community can recognize when someone is going through a really tough time and work together to support that person,” she added.

Desiree Lipka, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW ) with Solvista Health responded to questions regarding holiday depression for Ark Valley Voice.

How do the Holiday Blues or depression generally manifest?

There are many different reasons that people become sad during the holidays. For some it’s because they are not with their families, others it’s because they had negative experiences as a child around the holidays. There are as many reasons as there are people.

I have seen a lot of people isolate during the holiday season. They are feeling sad and do not want to be around others. An increase in the use of drugs and alcohol is also common.

Despite long-held beliefs and often erroneous media coverage, there is solid evidence that the suicide rate in the United States does not spike around the holidays. According to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, the suicide rate is highest between April and August. The months of November, December, and January actually have the lowest daily suicide rates.

However, low suicides rates don’t necessarily mean that the holidays blues aren’t a real phenomenon. While there are no systematic reviews about the increase of mental health problems around the holidays, there are findings from surveys that suggest people feel more stress, anxiety and depression in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

What does research tell us about holiday depression?

  • One survey by the American Psychological Association uncovered some interesting data about the holiday blues:
    While the majority of people in the survey reported feelings of happiness, love, and high spirits over the holidays, those emotions were often accompanied by feelings of fatigue, stress, irritability, bloating, and sadness.
  • 38 percent percent of people surveyed said their stress level increased during the holiday season. Participants listed the top stressors: lack of time, lack of money, commercialism, the pressures of gift giving, and family gatherings.
  • Surprisingly, 56 percent of respondents reported they experienced the most amount of stress at work. Only 29 percent experienced greater amounts of stress at home.
  • Another poll of more than 1,000 adults by the Principal Financial Group — a global investment company — found that 53 percent of people experience financial stress due to holiday spending, despite the fact more than half set budgets for their holiday spending.

While this data suggests that the holiday blues are a real phenomenon, it’s important to note that there are no systematic reviews or randomized controlled trials about mental health problems during the holiday season. The preliminary data indicate that this is a good topic for future research.

It’s important to note there is a difference between the holiday blues, which typically go away when the holiday season ends, and more severe depression, which lasts longer and interferes with activities of daily living. If the holiday season passes and you’re still feeling depressed or anxious, it’s best to consult with a medical professional.

If a person is already receiving mental health services their clinician may want to see the client more frequently during this time to give support.

Depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are actual diagnoses that are recognized by the mental health community. Holiday blues is not an actual diagnosis in and of itself and will usually pass when the holidays are over.

Does the condition, whether occasional or acute, affect any particular age group, gender or economic category more?

All mental health disorders cut across all socioeconomic/age/race and gender lines.

If a friend or co-worker is exhibiting such a condition, how should a layperson approach it?

If a friend or a co-worker appears to be affected by the holidays it would be suggested to support that person and listen non-judgmentally to what they are experiencing. Give support and reassurance to the person.

Solvista Health offers Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training which is beneficial in helping individuals become aware of how to support their friends/family/co-workers in times of a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour class that will help a person identify signs of a mental health crisis, help them become more comfortable talking about mental health issues and teach them what resources are available for getting a person in crisis to professional help. For more information about a MHFA course close to you, contact Gwen at Solvista Health, 719-539-6502.

Solvista Health has 24/7 crisis help available at 719-539-6502.

Colorado Crisis Services can be reached at 844-493-TALK (8255). And, the Colorado Crisis Text Line is also available 24/7, by texting TALK to 38255.