We are in the midst of the holiday season. For many people, it is time for the holiday party hop. In addition to family and friends, most organizations and employers are hosting holiday parties or other events. For me, between now and Christmas, I plan on attending three or four holiday events each week. Our law firm Christmas party is scheduled for next week.
Because the holidays are so focused on holiday activities and family, many of us think about memories of holidays past and how things used to be. But holidays can often trigger a change in your mood. You may be more sad or fatigued or just not physically active or not have an interest in the holidays. This can be especially true if you have lost a spouse or other loved one, you or your spouse have a medical condition with which you are struggling, the children have moved away or there is not a strong support system in place.
For example, I know of one couple who ended up alone this past Thanksgiving because all members of the older generation have passed on and the younger generation either had to work or moved away. I know of another couple with a large extended family who also ended up alone for Thanksgiving because health issues prevented them from traveling and the rest of the family already had plans elsewhere.
Loss is a painful and normal part of life. It may be the loss of a loved one, but it can also be the loss of independence, health or mobility. It is normal to be sad about or to grieve for these losses for weeks or even months. There generally is no set timetable for grieving. However, if the sadness continues for an extended period of time or if you have lost all hope, happiness, laughter, smiling and/or joy, it may be depression, which is not normal. Some professionals may start being concerned if your grieving goes much beyond two months.
As you age, biological changes can increase your risk of depression. The incidence of depression in seniors is directly proportional to your lack of independence. According to the National Institutes of Health, about 7 million of the 35 million Americans age 65 or older suffer from some form of depression. So if you are suffering from depression, you are not alone; you are with 20% of the senior population.
According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, some of the depression clues for which to look are:
- Prolonged sadness
- Fatigue or unexplained or aggravated aches and pains
- Hopelessness or helplessness
- Anxiety or worries or irritability
- Abandoning or losing interest in hobbies or personal care
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Loss of self worth
- Sleep disturbances
- Weight loss or loss of appetite
- Increase use of alcohol or drugs
- Fixation on death or suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Memory problems
There are some health conditions that actually can trigger depression-like symptoms. If you are concerned that either you or a loved one has depression, you or your loved one should be screened for some common health issues that include:
- Hormonal imbalances
- Thyroid problems
- Vitamin B12 and other nutritional deficiencies
- Electrolyte imbalances or dehydration
There are some other medical conditions and health issues that actually can lead to depression as part of the disease process. This can be particularly true with painful, disabling or life threatening diseases such as:
- Heart attack or Parkinson’s disease
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
If you are already taking medication, the medication itself can trigger depression-like symptoms, especially if you are taking multiple prescriptions. Some common medications that can trigger depression symptoms include:
- Pain killers
- Hormone medication
- Arthritis medication
- High blood pressure drugs
- Heart disease medication
- Tranquilizers and cancer drugs
Check with your doctor to see if any of the medications that you are taking could trigger your depression.
The two main treatment options for depression are medication and counselling/therapy. There are many anti-depressant drugs available. However, for seniors, these drugs are generally not always the first choice because of the higher risk factors. These include seniors tending to be more sensitive to drug side effects and the anti-depressants reacting with the other drugs you are taking.
Studies have shown that counselling/therapy is just as effective as medication in treating mild to moderate depression. There are a variety of therapies to assist you not only to address the symptoms of your depression, but also its underlying causes. There are supportive counselling, psychotherapy, cognitive behavior therapy and support groups.
Sometimes treatment for depression can be as simple as your loved ones getting more involved in your life and including you in family and other activities. Often times, you will deny there is anything wrong even though it is obvious to your loved ones. The help of caregivers and loved ones can make a difference and help remove your holiday blues.
Being around others can also help with the holiday blues. Instead of staying home alone for the holidays, volunteer with your church or other community organization that serves a holiday meal for those less fortunate than us.
Or you can participate in other church or holiday activities. Because the holidays are full of reminders of grief and loss, divorce, illness, unemployment, and other situations that can make this time of year painful, some churches have special services to help you cope. This year, Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Port Huron has a special “Blue Christmas Service” on Saturday, December 20th at 5:30 p.m. to help you who may have the holiday blues. This quiet service allows you to discover the mystery of God With Us while acknowledging your pain and sadness.
If you or a loved one is suffering from the holiday blues, do something about it. Get out. Don’t stay at home alone, be with others. Seek treatment. You have lots of options to help you deal with the holiday blues.
By: Matthew M. Wallace, CPA, JD
Published edited December 7, 2014 in The Times Herald newspaper, Port Huron, Michigan as: Be on guard for the holiday blues