Christmas Depression

What do the sights and sounds of Christmas evoke for you? Peace, joy, a sense of belonging? For some people it is just the opposite. 

For Sally G., the sight of Christmas decorations brings back her childhood memories of feeling left out--hers was the only Jewish family on her street. The Christmas season seemed to go on for ever. It still does. 

For Alan T., this will be his second Christmas after splitting up with his wife, and his first without his children--his wife gets them this year. When he tries to make holiday plans he just gets depressed.  

Gordon D. would be happy if Christmas was cancelled--for good. Every Christmas season brings back childhood memories he would like to forget. The sinking feeling--would his father get drunk and ruin everything again this year? Or if Gordon was very, very good--if he tried even harder than last year--would his father stay sober so they could be happy like the families on T.V.? It never worked, and as Christmas approaches all the old feelings come back. 

Ash P., Errol G., and Bettina S. all live alone. For reasons of distance, geographical or emotional, they do not see their families. "Christmas Day's the worst," says Bettina. "Everything's closed."  

Janice M. feels so uncomfortable around her family that she skipped Thanksgiving this year--and is still feeling guilty. The thought of Christmas gives her a headache, and she cannot figure out why. She has model parents--a devoted mother and a highly respected father--and she wonders what is wrong with her. After Christmas she gets a cold and feels depressed for weeks. She wishes she could go to sleep and wake up after the "festive season" is all over.

Alice R. is engaged in a constant battle with her weight, and she knows why she gets depressed during the Holidays. There is the irresistible food her female relatives keep pressing on her; the discussions about diets; the comments on everyone's appearance; and worst of all, the comparisons with her female cousins, who always have more promising boyfriends (those who are not married already), better jobs, and of course, better figures.


Much of my work is with depression, and the Christmas season and the period right after Christmas are when  my clients are most likely to need extra appointments. I think of all the other people who get depressed at this time of year. Many of them suffer needlessly, not realizing that something is wrong and that they are not supposed to feel that way. Others are aware that there is a problem, but do not know how to get help or do not believe that anyone can help. This is understandable, because many have had bad experiences in the past, but it is most unfortunate. 

For Seasonal Affective Disorder, which is partly responsible for the increase in depression at this time of year, light treatments are very effective. I would urge people who regularly experience lethargy and disturbed sleep patterns in December and January to see their family doctor for a diagnosis. She/he may prescribe light treatments or refer you to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Toronto) S.A.D. program. Also, it is important to exercise. You don't have to be on the Olympic team, or even at your personal best; every little helps.

For other causes of Christmas depression, a good counsellor or psychotherapist can make all the difference. 


Copyright 1996 Beth Mares