Mental health disorders differ from holiday blues

Although the holiday blues are a real phenomenon, the consequences associated with the holiday blues may surprise you. Evidence indicates that suicide rates in the United States do not actually spike around the holiday season but in fact suicide rates are highest between April and August. The months of November, December, and January actually have the lowest daily suicide rates. While there are no systematic reviews about the increase of mental health problems around the holidays, there are findings from surveys that suggest people feel more stress, anxiety and depression in the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. In other words, mental health disorders themselves do not increase around the holidays but signs and symptoms associated with mental health temporarily worsen around this time of year. This is particularly important because these temporary signs and symptoms can develop into mental health disorders later in the year if individuals do not take care of themselves around the holiday season. There is a difference between the holiday blues, which typically passes when the holiday season ends, and more severe depression, which lasts longer and interferes with activities of daily living.

The holiday season can be a tremendously stressful time for many individuals who are struggling with a mental illness such as depression and anxiety. According to a survey, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse. The pressure of trying to do everything, planning the perfect holiday, traveling to visit family, saying yes to every event, meeting those year-end deadlines and the financial burdens of holiday shopping, can be enough to send anyone into a tail spin. This holiday hustle and bustle cannot only heavily impact individuals who are prone to anxiety, depression and stress (and a lack of sleep) but can also take a toll on those who have never experienced a mental illness. “For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year” exclaimed the medical director of NAMI. “What the survey shows is a tremendous need for people to reach out and watch out for each other in keeping with the spirit of the season.” In another survey, approximately 755 of the overall respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feelings of sadness and dissatisfaction. 68% of survey participants felt financially strained, 66% experienced loneliness, 63% felt an overwhelmingly sense of pressure, 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past contrasting with the present, while 50% were unable to be with loved ones.

Looking at the statistics

  • The highest rate for child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs during the winter.
  • Dissatisfaction and loneliness are the most common symptoms of the holiday blues.
  • The holiday blues are different from mental illness, but short-term mental health problems must be taken seriously as they can lead to clinical anxiety and depression.
  • The holiday blues often affects individuals already living with mental illness.
  • Eating poorly and drinking excessively can also exacerbate issues like stress, anxiety and depression around the holidays.
  • Approximately 40% of adults are riddled with social anxiety around the holidays.
  • Mental health disorders do not actually increase around the holiday seasons.
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (differs from the holiday blues) piques in the winter and resolves in the late springtime and is characterized by depression that worsens with seasons.
  • According to the U.S. Center for Health Statistics, the months of November, December, and January actually have the lowest daily suicide the suicide rate is highest between April and August.

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness