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Tips to Spot Those Experiencing Holiday Depression

While it is true that suicide rates are actually lower at the holidays compared with other times of the year, the holidays can be a very lonely time for those with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. As a result, the hospital emergency department sees an increase in visits from people who have engaged in potentially self-destructive or depressive behavior.

“For those who have no support system, no friends, family, loved ones or even coworkers, the holidays can prove very deadly,” says Mark DeSilva, MD, medical director of the emergency department (ED) in Gottlieb Memorial Hospital, part of the Loyola University Health System. “Everywhere, there are signs of gatherings, gift exchanges, happiness, and love. If you are not experiencing what the rest of the world is enjoying, it is very bitter.”

DeSilva has worked in the ED at Gottlieb for more than a dozen years. “The holidays bring out desperate behavior in unstable individuals and they frequently end up in the ED as a medical emergency.”

Gottlieb Memorial Hospital’s full-service ED serves as a Level II Trauma Center, meaning specialists are on-call 24/7 to handle critical cases. Often there are signs that a person may be feeling overwhelmed. And there are opportunities to intervene.

Here are DeSilva’s five tips to identify individuals who may be vulnerable during the holidays:

Isolated behavior – “Most people are busy going to social gatherings, shopping, attending events and connecting with friends,” DeSilva said. “Look for those who shun social interaction or who consistently do not attend events that they say they will.”

Angry mood – “The person expresses sarcasm, unhappiness or criticism of others’ joy in the season and is consistently pessimistic,” DeSilva says.

Alcohol or drug excess – “Beer or cocktails, readily available throughout the holidays, or illegal drugs, are overindulged to numb the pain the individual is feeling and offer an escape from reality,” DeSilva says.

Missing frequently from work/social activities – “Facing others who are happy and bright is often too difficult for those feeling the holiday blues,” DeSilva says. “They may be consistently absent or very late to work or no-shows at anticipated social engagements.”

Excessive sleeping – “Depression often takes the guise of extreme fatigue or tiredness. The body shuts down to form an escape from the everyday world,” DeSilva says.

If you see signs of extreme behavior in a friend, family member or acquaintance, act immediately. “Talk to the individual and tell them the behavior that you are seeing and offer to help,” DeSilva says. “There are social services, community groups, churches and other programs that can intervene.”

The downturn in the economy also has contributed to depression and engagement in risky behavior. “Loss of a job or the unavailability of extra money for presents for loved ones can lead to low self-esteem and contribute to the person’s making poor choices,” DeSilva says.

“By recognizing when a person is in trouble, and speaking out, you may not only save them a trip to the ED, but also save a life,” he says.

— Source: Loyola University Health System