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It’s festive season, feeling blue?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder.

Published Dec 17, 2014


Durban - For many people, the festive season is not all parties and family fun. It’s a time of loneliness, depression and a possible relapse into old habits, like alcohol and substance abuse, making it all the more difficult to cope.

“The festive season idealises society’s warmest emotions,” says Tamryn Coats, counselling psychologist and researcher at Akeso Specialised Psychiatric Clinics.

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“Through advertisements and marketing, the ideal family, relationships and holidays are presented to us constantly. However, in reality, many of us may not have a sense of belonging with our families, may have difficult relationships, have lost close family members and be experiencing financial strain, while trying to manage the expectation of buying gifts or going on holiday. Most often, we are quite burnt out, tired and stressed by the end of the year.”

People feel they don’t fit in with the festive cheer and feel lonely and depressed, she says.

Zane Wilson, founder of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) says Christmas and family gatherings can be stressful for people who have lost a loved one or are spending their first Christmas alone due to divorce or even relocation.

“For some people, the family is the greatest source of stress and the festive season can also be a time of loneliness and grief,” she says.



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Red flags include withdrawing from social activities, feeling a greater sense of frustration, anger or irritability and a feeling of hopelessness or despair, especially regarding the future.

More tell-tale signs are a difficulty in concentrating, feelings of worthlessness, a constant sense of sadness and even thoughts of death and suicide. People may be emotional, often tearful, sleep more or less, or have insomnia, eating patterns may change – no appetite or overeating.

Coats says people often have intense feelings of anger about small things like traffic or shopping queues.

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Risk factors:

People who have lost loved ones are vulnerable and seeing others celebrate with family and friends may increase the feelings of loss. Parents whose children have moved away, those who have had relationship break-ups or those who have to work through the festive season and may feel resentful or lonely, says Coats.

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Links to suicide

Coats says depression is a significant risk factor for suicide.

“Often, people feel that they do not have a support system nor someone who understands how they feel. Their loneliness is amplified. This, combined with a lack of hope for the future, often results in people feeling that there is no reason to continue living feeling this way. It seems never-ending and can result in self-harm. Alcohol or other substances may increase feelings of loneliness or decrease inhibitions, resulting in risky or self-harm behaviour.”



Medication and treatment (specific to each person) may help but, often, a combination of medication and psychotherapy works best. People talk their feelings through with a psychologist and identify what coping mechanisms/skills can help them cope, while a psychiatrist will prescribe medication.



Institutions such as psychiatric clinics, Sadag and several churches host support groups.


Sadag has this advice for beating the festive blues:

l Lean on your support system. If you’ve been depressed, you need a network of close friends and family to turn to when things get tough.

l Ask for help and be specific. Ask your sister to help you cook, invite a friend along on shopping trips. People are usually happy to help if you tell them what you need.

l Don’t stay longer at an event than you want to. Going to a party doesn’t obligate you to stay until the bitter end. Instead, just drop by for a few minutes, say hello, and explain you have other engagements. Knowing you have a plan to leave can really ease your anxiety.

l Forget about the perfect gift. Don’t stress about finding the absolute best gift ever.

l Stick to a budget. The cost of holiday shopping mounts quickly and can make people feel out of control and anxious. Draw up a budget before you start shopping and stick to it.

l Stay on schedule. As much as you possibly can, try to stick with your normal routine during the holidays. Don’t stay too late at parties. Don’t stay up all night wrapping presents. Disrupting your schedule and losing out on sleep can make your mood deteriorate.

l Don’t rely on substances. Alcohol is a depressant and abusing it will leave you feeling worse. Be particularly careful if you are taking medication.

l If you take medication, don’t miss doses. In the hustle of the holidays, it’s easy forget your medication. Don’t let that happen.

Sadag will be open every day, including Christmas and New Year’s Day. Call 0800 21 22 23 or 0800 12 13 14 (24hrs). Log in via the website or go to the Facebook Page The South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

Akeso Clinics: or 011 447 0268. Crisis line: 0861 4357 87.

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