Holiday Blues vs. Depression

This time of year can be difficult for many people as they struggle with what's known as the holiday blues. Mental health experts say people need to know the difference between having the blues and suffering from something more serious.

The holiday blues are fairly common — that feeling of being down or sad or just not enjoying the season the way you usually do.

Dr. Sylvia Muzquiz-Drummon is the Mental Health Division Medical Director at the MHMRA of Harris County. She says the holiday blues usually last just a short time and then pass.

"Usually the symptoms are not as significant or severe as when somebody might be dealing with depression. The holiday blues usually come around this time of year, you're feeling somewhat down but not quite depressed."

Dr. Muzquiz says one of the best ways to cope with the holiday blues is by talking to a friend or family member about why you feel down. She also suggests engaging in fun and interesting activities, even when you don't feel like it.

Betsy Schwartz is president and CEO of Mental Health America of Greater Houston. She says the holiday blues affect women more than men.

"Some of that is just that we're all on overload this time of year. And so it's really important to make time for ourselves, to take good care of ourselves, to be sure that we're exercising, that we're not overdoing it on too much alcohol or cookies. And to really make special effort to be mindful of the stressers in our daily lives."

But if these feelings last more than two weeks, it could be a sign of something more serious. Dr. Muzquiz says it's important not to confuse the holiday blues with depression.

"The main thing that I think is important to remember is that you don't cope with depression, you treat depression. It's an illness. It requires professional help, medical attention, it can be treated. But when the symptoms last longer than the period of two weeks and it's beginning to affect your daily functioning, it's important that you turn to medical advice like you would for any other illness that's hampering your ability to function every day."

Mental health experts have identified nine symptons of depression and say if you have at least five of them at the same time for longer than two weeks, you should seek professional help. Dr. Muzquiz says the holiday blues will go away, but in most cases without treatment, depression will not.

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Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...