As you're celebrating the holiday season, be on the lookout for signs that all may not be so bright for some friends, family and neighbors. The poor economy is putting added stress on families, increasing the risk of depression.
As you're celebrating the holiday season, be on the lookout for signs that all may not be so bright for some friends, family and neighbors.
The poor economy is putting added stress on families, increasing the risk of depression, said Susan A. Berger, a Framingham licensed independent clinical social worker.
"This year, I've seen a number of people who are hurting more because their jobs are in jeopardy. Others have been laid off; they're afraid. There's a lot of anxiety," said Berger, who also works as a social worker at Advocates Inc. in Framingham.
Depression is a common and debilitating but treatable illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. It's more than just feeling low; it's a persistent feeling of being low, sad or hopeless that lasts for at least two weeks and causes impairment in function.
A 2005-2006 report by the Centers for Disease Control/National Center for Health Statistics found 5.4 percent of Americans 12 and older experienced depression. And rates of depression were higher among poor persons than among those with higher income.
Depression is always a danger during the holiday season, Berger said.
"There's such hype around the holidays. They rarely meet our expectations," said Berger.
The poor economy and the usual stresses of the season seem to be taking its toll on more people this year, agreed Anne Priestley, a licensed independent social worker and program director for Wayside Youth & Family Support Network's MetroWest Counseling Center in Framingham.
"Economically, more people are struggling. Loss issues are highlighted (by the recession) this year."
And images of a family with gifts under a glowing tree at a happy family gathering may not be the reality. "And if you're not having good relationships with your family and have money issues, it highlights the discrepancies," she said.
Charles J. Sachs, Ph.D., a psychologist at MetroWest Medical Center in Natick, said he hasn't noticed more people are depressed this year, but the short days and long nights of winter can affect the amount of sunlight our bodies get, and our mental state, he said. And that can affect the amount of certain chemicals in our bodies that affect mood.
"Our bodies are affected by the (amount of) daylight," Sachs said. "In general, the Christmas holiday and the Winter Solstice are associated with depression."
The Christmas holidays' focus on gifts may bring a person face to face with thoughts about what they expected out of life and the reality of their situation, Berger added.
Some are ashamed they've lost their jobs. "They lose their self-confidence; they wonder why it was them. Self-esteem is one of the worst problems people with depression have. They lose the sense of themselves and their sense of purpose. They wonder what they're doing here," Berger said.
The holidays are a time people begin to compare where they were last year and how their life is different this year, Berger said. Stark negative comparisons may lead people down the path to depression.
Sometimes such reflection can be a positive thing, Berger reminded.
"One of my clients just mentioned a year ago her husband was hospitalized and this year he's at home."
Loved ones who have died may be especially missed at this time of year when families gather together, added Berger, whose private practice, the Center for Loss, Bereavement and Healing, specializes in issues of death and dying. "There are many reminders of people they have lost," said Berger, who has written a book on the topic, "The Five Ways We Grieve," that is expected to be published this summer.
Symptoms of depression include anything that affects a person's ability to function normally, Berger said.
People who are depressed may seem sad. They may not be sleeping as well as usual, waking up in the middle of the night. Their appetite may change; they may eat more out of nervousness or may be eating less than usual.
"A lot of people tend to lose interest in things. They don't feel like going shopping or doing their usual things."
But people in denial about their depression may shop when they don't have enough money, adding to their problems. Older folks often feel a pressure to buy gifts for grandchildren even though they may not have the money to buy as many gifts this year.
With the economic downturn we need to be especially sensitive to what others may be going through, Berger said. If someone has expressed fear of being laid off from work, be a good listener.
Preventing depression means taking good care of your overall health.
Make sure you get exercise, "even if it is just taking a walk for 10 minutes a day," Berger said.
And be on the watch for people who are alone. Invite them to your holiday dinner, or to church, mosque or synagogue for a service. If you're the one who may be alone, make plans with someone else.
And if you're feeling low, find someone to talk to, Berger said. "Being aware of what's making you sad is really important," she said. It doesn't have to be a therapist or counselor - friends and clergy can be helpful too.
"Pick people whom you think can be supportive," she said.
MetroWest Daily News