Holidays blues and clinical depression, know the difference

Dear Editor:

While it may seem like everyone around you is filled with anticipation and excitement for this holiday season, it is important not to overlook those people who will battle the holiday blues, especially our senior citizens. Depression become more prevalent during the holiday season, and the elderly must not be forgotten.

On behalf of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc. I would like to remind everyone to keep tabs on their family, friends and colleagues and neighbors as a way to identify those who may be experiencing the blues during this festive time of year. It is easy for those of us who are busy preparing parties and gift giving to tune out any problems. We need to take time to make sure that those around us, especially senior citizens who may be alone, are not experiencing the holiday blues. Almost 20 percent of elderly people living in the community are found to have significant depressive symptoms.

I would like to offer the following tips to help you keep things in perspective and enjoy the holiday.

Spend time with family and friends. Also, try to include those senior citizens who may not have relatives close by or who have recently lost a spouse. Studies show that 10 percent to 20 percent of widows and widowers will develop depression within the first year of bereavement.

Remember that the holidays are a time for sharing, even if it means a small amount of your time. For someone who does not receive visitors, even a short visit is welcome and means a lot to them.

Remain positive. All too often, people have grandiose ideas of how wonderful the holidays are going to be. When the holidays fail to meet those expectations, people’s disappointment can lead to depression. Many seniors may become depressed when reminiscing about times gone by and remembering loved ones who are no longer with them. Keep focused on the positive, such as the new friends and family members they have gained over the years.

Lastly, and most importantly, know the difference. There is a big difference between the holiday blues and clinical depression. After all, no one can have everything they want during the holidays, which may leave them feeling down. Clinical depression, on the other hand, may affect sleep patterns, appetites, or the level of concentration. Constant feelings of worthlessness or self-hatred, preoccupation with death or dying, or loss of interest in friends are other warning signs of depression. Studies find that depression and other mental illnesses are under-diagnosed and under-treated in the elderly. The good news is that with treatment, 80 percent of seniors with depression will recover within two years and most within six months.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from depression, contact your local community mental health care center.

Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D
Executive Director,
New Jersey Association of Mental Health Agencies, Inc.


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