Tis the season for good cheer. But, for some, the holidays can bring about the opposite. In our KERA Health Checkup, Sam Baker talked with Dr. Randy Basham, an associate professor of social work at U.T. Arlington, about holiday depression and what can be done about it.
Dr. Basham: For the most part, around the holidays, people are concerned about a lot of things: End of the year, comparing themselves to where they were the year before. If they've had any loss in their life, it's become an anniversary season. There's commercialization.
Sam: We're putting too much pressure on people, maybe?
Dr. Basham: Putting a lot of pressure on people to purchase and provide things for their family members or friends. And, of course, with unemployment, other economic issues and just rising costs, it's even more difficult to than last year.
Sam: Even for students this can be kind of a difficult time.
Dr. Basham: Obviously, they're in a lower income bracket. They're not earning money. A lot of times they're getting by on loans. As faculty, we're very aware of a couple of issues. We have students who really aren't with family or who aren't attached to anyone or really know what to do with themselves over the winter season or the holiday season.
Sam: Can there be serious consequences of this?
Dr. Basham: A lot of times bad judgment. Younger people want to hook up with their friends that they've known, connect with them, and maybe they've moved on. A lot of times they think "Well the hectic days of exams are over with" so they start using alcohol or other things and start making bad judgments. And, of course, relationship changes are quite frequent. People who get depressed or isolated will often reach out frantically to someone who's, maybe, not the best for them.
Sam: What symptoms should we be looking for in others and perhaps even in ourselves?
Dr. Basham: Folks, a lot of times, will seclude to themselves. People will have sleeping issues, appetite issues, usually changes. Around the holidays, we see a lot of people overeating, sometimes more as sedation. Folks are thinking more hopeless thoughts, comparing themselves poorly or not seeing a good future for themselves. Those are folks we'd be a little more concerned about, especially if they expressed it.
Sam: If you do recognize signs of holiday depression in someone or yourself, what then should you do?
Dr. Basham: With someone else, certainly if we or observe something that looks more like those clinical symptoms, we want to refer them out to professional people who can work with them; hopefully get them feeling better and moving on. If we recognize those sorts of things in ourselves, I think it's really important for people to reach out and not feel so isolated. There are a couple of ways to do that. You know, one way is to simply say to someone, "You know, I don't know what I'm going to do for the holidays. I kind of like to spend time with people and I don't have anyone here." I think folks will hear that. I think another way to do it, though, really is to take the focus off yourself a bit and think about volunteering and doing something for someone else. And, so often times when people are just preoccupied with themselves and feeling a little down, just focusing on doing something for another person is a way to pull you off those thoughts. And really start to plan for next year a little bit. And so if you find yourself in a tight spot this year, start thinking about it, sort of incrementally, how do I improve this in the future.
Dr. Randy Basham is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington School of Social Work.
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