Thanksgiving is nearly upon us and the “holiday season,” nowadays reckoned as stretching from Halloween through New Year’s Day, is here. Tis the season to be jolly. So why are so many publications currently offering advice on “Holiday Depression?” It seems that this is an all too common problem. Nor is it a new one.
It once was popular folklore that suicides and murders peak between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This, as it happens, is untrue: the rates for both actually drop. In recent years we have been treated to numerous seasonal news articles cheerily debunking the old myth. However few of those articles mention that suicides spike 40% (source: healthline.com) in the days immediately after Christmas, which are still part of the season. Nor do they usually mention that, while murder may be less frequent, the risk of dying from all causes, including cardiac arrest and accidents, is in fact higher in the holiday season than during the rest of the year. Less severe crimes than homicide rise alarmingly: fraud, identity theft, burglary, and scams of all kinds among them. Being a crime victim can depress anyone. Yet, this is not high on the list of reasons the season is hard on some people.
What is? Unresolved family issues loom large, and they have a way of re-emerging at family gatherings. There are worries about overspending and stresses from overscheduling. There is the recognition that our lives are not as idyllic as a Norman Rockwell painting. The end of the year also brings to mind thoughts of aging, mortality, and missed opportunities. Furthermore, some psychologists argue (no joke) that many adults have a lingering unacknowledged sense of loss from the bad news about Santa Claus. Of course, many of us (all of us who are old enough) have experienced real losses: loved ones who are absent from the table. My mother, for example, though never in a general way depressed by the season, after my sister died in 1995 found it impossible to listen to Elvis’ Blue Christmas, which turns up frequently on the radio this time of year. She always changed stations or turned the radio off.
None of that seems to offer much reason to smile, but in truth there is no more cause to be down than at any other time of the year. As in other aspects of life, so long as we are aware of the potholes ahead we are less likely to step into them. There are pleasant aspects to the season too. Remaining friends and family are likely to be present, for one thing, and presumably we like some of them. If that’s not enough, keep in mind it will all be over January 2, a day to which we can look forward. That’s the day we break our New Year’s Resolutions, and that always is fun.
Blue Christmas – Elvis Presley