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UC Davis Medical Center

UC Davis Medical Center

Holiday blues, or depressive disorder?

For some symptoms, a doctor's visit is in order

If during the holidays you experience a certain range of symptoms to such severity that they interfere with your normal activities, it is important to seek help from your primary care physician.

Comparing the holiday blues to a depressive disorder is like comparing a cold to pneumonia, says Robert Hales, chair of the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Although feelings of depression, sadness or discouragement occasionally tug at all of us, especially during the holidays, major depression is a state of psychological misery that does not go away.

Major depression can destroy joy for living and make it impossible to focus on work and responsibilities. Individuals may experience hopelessness and depressive symptoms such as sadness and tearfulness throughout the day. Thoughts of death or suicide may enter their minds.

For people who experience depressive symptoms, that persist and intensely, clinical depression may develop.

Holidays can lead to increased depression

Depression is the world’s most common mental ailment, affecting approximately 16 percent of adults at some point in their lives. Stress-related events such as the holidays may trigger half of all depressive episodes, Hales says.

Since the holidays may be a period where people experience increased depression, it is important to recognize the signs of major depression, a biological or medical illness just like other physical ailments.

If during the holidays you experience many of the below symptoms to such severity that they interfere with your normal activities, it is important to seek help from your primary care physician:

  • Changes in mood:  feeling sad, empty, hopeless, worried, irritable
  • Changes in thinking:  loss of interest or pleasure in usual activities, poor concentration, low self-esteem, indecisiveness, preoccupation with death, thoughts of suicide, guilt
  • Changes in behavior:  slowing down or increased restlessness, crying, social withdrawal, suicidal acts
  • Changes in physical condition:  increased or decreased appetite, disturbed sleep, decreased sexual drive, weight loss or gain, pain, digestive problems, fatigue.

Effective treatments are available

Thanks to an impressive array of well-researched treatments, as many as 80 percent of those suffering from depression improve significantly within a few months from medication, psychotherapy, or a combination of these treatments.