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Minding Michigan: How to fight the “holiday blues” phenomenon

Nom & Malc

Type the words “holiday depression” into Google search and you will get nearly a million hits.

It's tough enough when you're feeling down, feeling completely out of step with everybody else. But it's even tougher now, during the holidays, with those messages of cheer, those "tidings of comfort and joy."

Dr. Farha Abbasi, a Michigan State University psychiatrist, joined Stateside today to talk about navigating the holiday season if you, or someone you care about, are struggling with depression.

Abbasi said the holiday blues phenomenon comes down to this:

“Those who are vulnerable, this is a much more heightened time of stress for them,” she said. “They’re more vulnerable to feeling lonely, isolated – more depressed, and more prone to act on their suicidal thoughts.”

As others gather with families and loved ones, those who don’t have families – people who have suffered a recent loss or breakup for instance – feel extra lonely and extra isolated, Abbasi said.

Finances are another cause of holiday blues. People who face severe financial crises can feel let down amidst holiday shoppers.

“The holidays have become such a time for consumerism,” Abbasi said.

But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are other ways to give gifts that don't involve buying something tangible. She said the gift of time, for instance, is a good alternative.

“There can be so many things that can be done differently to be more inclusive and thoughtful of those who do not have what some of us are privileged to have,” she said.

How to combat holiday blues

Abbasi said to combat holiday blues, people should stay connected.

“Find friends, or even if you do not have anyone around in the area, at least connect to some other support groups,” she said.

Churches, faith groups, volunteer organizations, charities or other holiday events, she said, are great places to start.

“Feel connected, but do not sit alone with these feelings, with these thoughts,” she said. “It’s very important to connect to others.”

For those who know family members or friends who might feel depressed, Abbasi said it’s crucial to “keep them involved in whatever activities are going on.”

And, she said, take note of “any sudden changes of behavior” – whether someone appears happier than usual, sadder than usual or some other change.

A sudden change is a red flag. It could indicate someone needs immediate help.

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is as follows: 1-800-273-8255.

Minding Michigan is Stateside’s ongoing series that examines mental health issues in our state.

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