While the holiday season is generally thought of as a joyous time spent with family and friends, individuals with depression are often filled with feelings of sadness, isolation and anxiety.
Seniors especially are prone to feeling sad during the holidays. This can be a result of losing loved ones, being away from family or feeling frustrated with aging. Many seniors who have depression fail to seek treatment, making the holiday season even more tumultuous since they are unsure of how to properly cope with their feelings. If you or a loved one is struggling with depression, know that you are not alone, and that help is available.
What Is Depression?
Depression is a mental health disorder that negatively impacts not only how you feel, but how you act and think as well. Feelings of sadness are unavoidable, so you shouldn’t panic if you feel troubled or upset every now and then. Depression, however, means you have persistent feelings of sadness that change the way you go about your daily life. This illness is unique in that anyone can be affected by it, regardless of race, gender, age or class. Your genetic makeup can make you more prone to depression, so take note of your family history if you are concerned about a loved one’s mental health. Environmental factors also contribute to the development of depression, such as being exposed to violence, poverty or abuse for an extended period of time. Diagnosing depression isn’t a straightforward process, as symptoms for the disorder can vary from mild to severe. Common symptoms include:
- Regularly feeling sad or gloomy
- Loss of energy/interest in formerly enjoyed activities
- Trouble focusing
- Feelings of worthlessness and helplessness
- Drastic changes in weight and/or sleeping patterns
How the Holidays Factor In
As a holiday enthusiast, you might have trouble understanding how the holiday season could intensify an individual’s depression. Seniors who see others enjoying themselves and loving one another will often feel isolated and depressed about their own personal circumstances. The expectations that come with the holidays, from managing family obligations to shopping for others, can further contribute to feelings of anxiety and sadness.
If you’re having trouble staying positive this holiday season, take a deep breath and relax. Know that your feelings and thoughts are shared by others and that there are steps you can take towards combating the holiday blues. If you notice that your mood often takes a turn for the worse during the winter months, you may have seasonal affective disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a specific type of depression that is characterized by feelings of fatigue, sadness and helplessness during the colder months of the year. These feelings are brought on by the fact that life typically slows down during the Winter. With less hours of sunlight, frigid temperatures and a harder time traveling, you’re much more likely to remain dormant in your home. Isolating yourself intensifies feelings of loneliness and depression, as minimal social interactions makes you resort to contemplating your life and purpose.
Since SAD is a subtype of depression, symptoms for these two disorders are very similar. An individual who has been diagnosed with depression is far more susceptible to SAD than the average person, as their already complex feelings are only heightened by the gloomy weather. The effects of SAD on seniors can often result in substance abuse issues, including addictions to alcohol, tobacco or other harmful drugs. While it’s not uncommon to feel down in the dumps during the Winter season, you should be wary of your day-to-day feelings as Winter rages on. If you notice a shift in personality and/or mood in your parents or grandparents as the seasons come and go, you may want to explore treatment options for SAD to ensure your loved one’s complete well-being.
With over 6 million seniors (65+) diagnosed, depression in the elderly is more common than you think. Knowing how to help a senior with depression is likely uncharted territory for you. However, simply showing your love and support for your loved one as they learn to face their depression can make a huge difference in their life. Treatment for seasonal affective disorder often includes light therapy, which helps manage your mood by triggering chemicals in your brain that are produced by artificial light. For cases of depression, medication and therapy are two proven methods to help those struggling with their negative feelings. Speak with your doctor if you have any reason to believe that your loved one is depressed. An early diagnosis and treatment will greatly improve the likelihood of your elder’s ability to enjoy the holidays to the utmost extent.