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Holiday Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder Could Indicate Mental Illness

While the holidays are portrayed as a happy time of celebration, this is not true for everyone, especially in today’s times of devastating incidents of violence and both the immediate and long-term effects of such tragedies. The one-year anniversary of the Newtown, CT, school shooting is a striking example. The loss of loved ones through suicide, accidents and other tragic situations also can make the holidays a difficult time for many people.

Studies indicate that one of every four New Jersey residents has a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, which can be exacerbated during the holiday season. Furthermore, depression and anxiety can increase risk of substance use and suicide. It is critical to manage mental and physical health; recognize signs of mental illness, substance use and suicide risk; seek help when needed and encourage others to do so.

“Anyone could experience holiday blues, especially if they experience high levels of stress or emotionally taxing situations. For coping with disappointments and tragedies, it always helps to have trusted friends or family members – or, if needed, a professional – to confide in and work through the feelings that could interfere with life in general, not just enjoyment of the holidays,” said Debra L. Wentz, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of the New Jersey Association of Mental Health and Addiction Agencies, Inc. (NJAMHAA). “Stress often results from having unrealistic expectations for the holidays. The intensified impact of stress can be lessened by making time for ourselves, setting realistic financial and other expectations for the holidays and trying to create and share special family memories.”

Stress can be alleviated by managing what can be controlled. For example, expenses, such as gifts and entertainment, can be reduced. Healthy practices, such as exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep, are
also helpful in managing stress, in addition to offering many physical health benefits. These activities can also help mitigate sadness and anxiety.

Furthermore, spending more quality time with loved ones, and less time listening to bad news on the radio or television and surfing the Internet would be healthier. If these tactics are not sufficient for reducing stress, help should be sought from friends, family members or professionals.


Seasonal Affective Disorder
Winter’s shorter days can bring on the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) for nearly 14 million Americans. NJAMHAA urges everyone to be aware of the signs of SAD and seek medical attention to ensure proper diagnosis and treatment of SAD or other illnesses that may be mistaken for SAD. For example, SAD can be misdiagnosed as severe depression or bipolar disorder or as a physical illness, such as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia or a viral infection.

“SAD is a real, diagnosable mental health disorder that should be taken as seriously as all other kinds of mental and physical illnesses. It is important to understand that help is available for individuals who experience depressive symptoms, whether they indicate SAD, clinical depression or any other condition,” Dr. Wentz said.

As with depression, symptoms of SAD may include but are not limited to fatigue, lack of interest in normal activities, social withdrawal, difficulty getting out of bed, difficulty concentrating, feelings of sadness and apathy combined with irritability. The difference is that with SAD, as well as holiday blues, the symptoms usually dissipate when spring arrives and typically do not reappear until late fall when the days begin to get shorter again and especially during January and February. By contrast, symptoms of depression could last or periodically reappear all year long.

“Since SAD, holiday blues and depression can become serious or be mistaken for other illnesses, NJAMHAA recommends that individuals experiencing these symptoms seek treatment from behavioral or medical healthcare providers. It is critical that everyone who experiences symptoms of SAD sees a doctor to be evaluated and treated properly,” Dr. Wentz said.

NJAMHAA member providers are listed, along with contact information, at (scroll down and click on the “Need Treatment?” button on the left side of the home page).

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