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Here's to You -- Seasonal blues can hit on the holidays

As a culture, we have given significance to holidays that are beyond the accepted religious or traditional meanings. Christmas is the one that is identified as a major family holiday. Because of this, people tend to miss family members more, have increased difficulties with grief and loss, and feel more alone than at other times of the year.

These thoughts and feelings enhance sadness and loneliness during the holiday season. There is also an expectation that in order to celebrate Christmas effectively, one must do so with his or her family, with even the commercials showing couples and families celebrating together. Because of this, there is more of a chance that someone could become depressed during the holidays.

If someone is alone during the holidays, they can feel sad, isolated and out of touch with those who they see as having family connections and therefore are "truly" celebrating Christmas.

Common terms used for these thoughts and feelings have been seasonal affective disorder, the blues and clinical depression.

SAD is a set of symptoms that are signs of clinical depression. These symptoms start in fall or winter, remitting in spring. Some of the symptoms are lack of energy. poor appetite or overeating, hopelessness, poor focus and concentration, not being able to sleep or sleeping too much, poor self-esteem and not enjoying things previously enjoyed. These symptoms are the same as with a clinical depression such as major depression except that there can be suicidal thoughts or attempts during a major depressive episode.

The majority of individuals who have a problem at Christmas tend to have suffered a loss in the immediate past and the holiday reminds them of this loss. They tend to recover and appear to feel better after the holiday has passed. Simply talking to another person such as a minister, co-worker or friend enables them to deal with the immediate feelings. They can also help themselves deal with the situation by volunteering to help others either through their church or other organizations.

However those who are having more significant problems would need to be assessed by a mental health professional to determine the most effective treatment approach to help them with any underlying depression. During the holidays, if someone has an immediate concern over the mental well-being of a friend or relative and there is a fear the person might harm him- or herself, the friend or relative can always take that individual to the closest emergency room where he or she can be evaluated and receive needed interventions.

Christmas can be a time of joy, celebration and, for some, reflection over the birth of a savior for our world. But for some, it can also be a time of sadness and depression. If you have concerns regarding a friend or a loved one, never hesitate to put your care for him or her into action and seek help on his or her behalf.

Donald Turk, MSW, LICSW, is Mental Health Programs director for the Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center.