As the school year winds down, so do the moods of many students. With added pressures to do well on final exams, turn in essays and buy gifts for family and friends with what little money they have, students can be at risk for the “holiday blues” or depression.
The “holiday blues” is one name for sadness experienced this time of year. According to Marshall Bloom, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and director of the Blues Project, a CSUN peer educator program that trains student volunteers in how to raise awareness of depression, the “holiday blues” is considered a temporary thing.
“It coincides with the end of the year and holiday time, where people can potentially be in a more depressed (state of mind),” Bloom said.
Family issues, or those concerning friends or other relationships, are potential causes of this condition. Also, Bloom said that losing someone close or ending a relationship around the holidays can add to the stress. He said holidays are a time spent celebrating with others, and if someone feels they do not belong, or feels “apart from that life,” there is likelihood they will experience sadness.
According to Victoria Dekovich, a peer educator for the Blues Project and a psychology student, symptoms of “the holiday blues” may be similar to those of a major depressive disorder. Such symptoms can include changes in sleeping or eating patterns (sleeping or eating more, or sleeping or eating less), a loss of interest in things that once were enjoyable, having a hard time focusing and making decisions, decreased energy and feelings of helplessness or guilt. Dekovich said sometimes a person with depression could even experience physical pain, including headaches or overwhelming fatigue.
Bloom explained it could affect students who are under increased stress, especially during exam time. However, he said that students who do not know how to cope with stress or have a history of “coping skills that are not always as sound” may be predisposed to feeling blue this time of year. For example, students who procrastinate often create their own stressful situations, and if they do not know how to handle that stress well, just as they do not manage their time well, they can be susceptible to the condition. He said University Counseling Services has resources to help students curb procrastination and manage their time better. However, he realizes the nature of the beast may prevent many students from seeking help with their habit.
Bloom offered this advice: “In the arena of stress, (one should practice reduction management). If you can’t alter or change the situation that is causing stress, it may be helpful to change the way in which you’re dealing with it.”
Mark A. Stevens, Ph.D., is the director of University Counseling Services and has prepared the brochure “Dealing with Holiday Stress: Some Helpful Hints for College Students.” The brochure lists suggestions for coping with the potential stress of the holidays and the coming new year. Students with bothersome siblings or “hassles at home” are advised to try a new activity to get out of the house and away from those stressors. The brochure also says that one should not have too high an expectation of the holidays. Although the holidays are typically considered a joyful time of year, this does not mean one has to feel this way all the time. Other feelings, such as those of disappointment or anger, are allowed. The brochure has not yet been published.
Bloom stressed that the “holiday blues” are not to be mistaken for Seasonal Affective Disorder. Dekovich said SAD occurs around the same time of year as the holidays. More specifically, it refers to winter, which is a season that brings gloomy skies and in which people are less exposed to the sun. Bloom said the two may be experienced around the same time of year, but they are “not as directly linked.” He said it does not typically affect people in southern California, where the weather is different from the rest of the country. Dekovich added that it applies more to those living in cities such as Seattle, which has a high suicide rate.
Dekovich warned there is another condition to look out for which is called dysthymia. She said it is a less severe form of depression, but it can be chronic. It is typically characterized by a dull sense of being.
“They are not feeling intense emotions, but they are not very happy or they don’t feel happy,” she said.
She added that most people who have experienced this form of depression have had at least one depressive episode once in their life. She said the symptoms are very similar to that of other forms of depression and those experiencing dysthymia may receive the same treatments.
Dekovich said that any episode of sadness lasting more than two weeks is cause for concern.
Both Bloom and Dekovich listed numerous resources for students who are or have friends who are experiencing symptoms of depression, or if they simply need someone to talk to. They can visit University Counseling Services in Bayramian Hall, room 520. They can call the CSUN HelpLine at (818) 349-HELP or other hotlines found in the phone book, online, or by dialing “0” for an operator.
One place people may not necessarily think of as a resource for caring for severely depressed or suicidal people are emergency rooms.
However, both Bloom and Dekovich said that emergency rooms are equipped to handle such scenarios. Bloom said emergency rooms typically have a separate unit set aside to support treatment for such patients.