The holiday season is typically a time of joy and celebration, but for many Americans it isn’t always the most wonderful time of year.
In fact, as people are celebrating holidays like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s Eve, this time of year can trigger a feeling of loneliness and a lack of fulfillment, leading to depression.
Nearly 24 percent of Kentuckians reportedly suffer from depression in their lifetime. With the extra stress of holiday gatherings, the potential reminder of loneliness, and decreased time to exercise, this time of year can be challenging for many.
During the holidays, many people may find their mental health worsening. For women, this can especially be true. Women are 70 percent more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetime.
Depression can begin with feelings of sadness and emptiness that won’t go away. Common symptoms of depression include extreme irritability over minor things, anxiety and restlessness, loss of interest in favorite activities, thoughts of death and suicide, insomnia or sleeping too much, weight gain or weight loss, and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.
While there is not a known cause for depression, it has been linked to a number of genetic, biological, environmental and psychological factors. Depression often coexists with other serious illnesses or diseases, such as Parkinson’s disease, heart attacks or cancer.
For those who are dealing with social isolation during the holidays, one of the best ways to deal with this is to reach out to friends or family for support, or to talk to a therapist. This can help determine what is causing the person to feel isolated, and develop solutions to help overcome the feeling of depression.
Those battling depression may also find solutions to the holiday stress, such as planning a family outing or vacation instead of spending the holidays at home, leaving an event if they are not comfortable, helping others by volunteering, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a regular sleep pattern, and exercising when possible.
While depression is a serious illness, it is also treatable. Depending on the severity of symptoms, a physician or psychiatrist may recommend treatment with an antidepressant medication. Other medications also may be added to the antidepressant to boost its effectiveness. If the medication proves to be ineffective, treatment options may be recommended, including psychotherapy, or talk therapy; and electroconvulsive therapy, also referred to as shock therapy.
Signs of depression should not be taken lightly. If you feel like something is wrong, it’s important to get help immediately — don’t wait until the holidays are over to seek treatment.
Contact a mental health specialist or physician about symptoms. If you find yourself having suicidal thoughts, immediately dial 9-1-1, go to a hospital emergency room, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Heather Goodman is with assessment and referral services at Our Lady of Peace which offers behavioral health and substance-use services.