While it may not be true that suicide increases around the holiday season, it is true that many people do experience what has become known as holiday blues. This may be because people are more aware of their feelings at this time of the year or because their expectations of happiness are higher during the holidays and so they feel like they are sadder than they “should” be. Regardless, the triggers for these feelings seem to be similar regardless of the patient and many of the non-medical treatment options are viable for most patients as well. Of course it is important to remember that not all patients who feel depressed will have these “holiday blues” and may be in need of more intense treatment.
Some of the most common triggers for an episode of holiday blues include the pressure to feel happy, memories of past holidays, loneliness, and financial difficulties.
Pressure – the pressure to feel merry and bright dramatically increases during the holidays. Everyone is speaking of good will and those who are naturally more somber or who do not enjoy the holidays may feel worse during the season simply because more people are telling them the way they feel is wrong.
Memories – Memories of both good and bad holiday experiences can lead to the holiday blues. Individuals may feel that their good experiences in the past cannot or will not be replicated this season leading to a feeling of dissatisfaction. Memories of bad holidays can lead to trepidation of upcoming festivities.
Loneliness – Many people must spend the holiday season alone for any number of reasons such as relocation, military service, or a death of a loved one. For a season that is supposed to be devoted to family and friends this can be especially difficult.
Finances – Financial problems have become more common over the past few years. People who are accustomed to spending freely during the holiday season may feel the pressure to do so again this year, even if they know they cannot afford it. Whether they decide to spend on credit or to trim their budget, the necessity of doing either can lead to feelings of inadequacy and sadness.
While there are several things the patient can do on their own to overcome the holiday blues, what they really need is an enhanced overall support structure during the holiday season. You may want to consider increasing therapy sessions prior to and immediately following the holiday. Another option is to include group therapy sessions for patients who seem receptive to the idea.
Do you see patients suffering from the holiday blues? What do you do to help them cope with the added stress during the holiday season? What treatments have been most effective?