Have you ever heard the term “holiday blues”? It is a common myth that mental illness complications increase around the December holidays. However, according to research published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, while the general mood of individuals may worsen during the holiday season, there is a lower occurrence of psychiatric patients in emergency rooms or inpatient hospitals. The study also shows lower rates of self-harm behavior, suicide attempts, or suicide completions during that same period.

Coping Skills
While this research is good news, people with mental illness – as well as their family, friends, and advocates – should be aware of coping skills during the holidays. Unfortunately, the holiday season is one of hustle, bustle, and stress. For some people, the additional stress and obligations of the holidays make it easier to turn to an unhealthy coping skill – drinking alcohol.

Alcohol can significantly affect an individual’s feelings of depression, as it is a depressant itself. Drinking alcohol not only contributes to increased feelings of sadness in some individuals, it can also cause some antidepressants to be less effective. This holiday season, work to eliminate alcohol from your list of coping skills; instead, try to alleviate stress with extra visits with your counselor, exercise, or meditation.

Alternative Diagnosis
For some people who become depressed during the holiday season, it may not be stress or a lingering mental health issue that is causing a down mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a disorder that can affect some people during the fall and winter time. People living with SAD can feel exhausted, moody, and depressed all season long, not getting relief until spring arrives. Fortunately, people with SAD can be effectively treated; unfortunately, many people go undiagnosed. If you are feeling tired and depressed, consult with your doctor to see if you may be experiencing SAD symptoms.

After the Holidays End
Finally, once the holidays are over, keep connected to your loved ones who may have mental illness. There is a proven rebound behavior pattern for self-harm, suicide attempts, or suicide completions after Christmas. It appears that once family and friends return to their non-holiday life, people with depression or other mental health issues can experience a surge in feelings of depression.

This season can be tricky for a variety of reasons. Be aware of how you are feeling and if you need to ask for help. Take care of yourself, enjoy time with family of friends, and consume alcohol in a healthy way. Be especially vigilant to how you are feeling after the season ends and don’t hesitate to reach out to someone, or seek help from a professional, if you are feeling depressed. Stay safe this season!

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