Depression Around the Holidays: What Every Parent Should Know

Maybe you have a child coming home for the holidays from their freshman year at college, or they’re coming back for an extended stay through the new year. This can be a very stressful and challenging stage in a young adult’s life, and as their parent, it’s normal to have some concerns about their mental health, especially around this time of year.

Is It Major Depression or Holiday Blues?

When kids come home for the holidays they will often initially go back to a more childlike state. Some young adults will sleep more and spend time in mindless pursuits like video games or just scrolling on their phones. Your child has been managing their time for themselves and may really appreciate being able to take time to rest and recharge when they arrive back in the safety of home. This would be pretty normal as they decompress.

Some tips for when your teen or young adult first arrives back at home:

  • Try to give them some space for the first few days so that they can settle in and readjust.
  • Set a date for a sit-down conversation to go over expectations for the visit. As your child enters this stage of trial-adulthood they may have some other plans in mind.
  • Let them know you do expect them to pitch in around the house. Your home has not become a hotel in their absence.
  • Try not to nag. Give them room to get things done in their own time.

The child who comes home will likely be different from the one who left, and that is a natural part of the “adulting” process. It is natural to be concerned if your child seems to be distracted or is feeling depressed.

Perhaps they are also going through some challenges in their romantic life or feeling stressed due to demands at school. The holidays can create pressures which can result in a case of the holiday blues. Feeling blue or sad at times is not the same as being depressed.

Depression is diagnosed when a person has five symptoms of depression on a daily basis, for most of the day, for over two weeks.1 The most telling symptom is one of having a depressed mood or displaying a lack of interest in most activities.

The other symptoms of depression are1:

  • Ongoing sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
  • Presenting as irritable, restless, or frustrated
  • Having a sense of guilt or worthlessness
  • A loss of energy, persistent fatigue, or feeling “in slow motion”
  • Having a hard time concentrating
  • Trouble with memory or decision making
  • Changes in sleep patterns like frequent waking or sleeping much of the day
  • Large increase or decrease in appetite
  • Unintended weight loss or gain
  • General malaise or body aches, digestive issues that don’t resolve with treatment
  • Persistent thoughts about death in general, thoughts of suicide, or suicide attempts

Addressing the issue sooner rather than later results is better recovery and reduces the chances of the symptoms increasing in severity.2

How to Talk with Your Child About Mental Health

If you find yourself concerned that your child may be struggling with depression you need to talk to them. It can be challenging to connect with your child at times and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed yourself. Trying to create a comfortable situation with relaxed conversation makes your child more likely to open up.

Here are some things to keep in mind when broaching the subject of mental health3:

  • Be real. Showing genuine concern and empathy will go farther than trying to impart wisdom they haven’t asked for.
  • Allow for silence during the conversation. Ask open-ended questions, and then wait for them to speak. They likely need time to process and sort through their thoughts and feelings.
  • Try talking in the car, or while on a walk, or shopping. Sometimes teens feel more comfortable in a setting that is less intensely focused on them, and this allows them to open up.
  • Accept what they tell you. Don’t try to talk them out of their feelings with comments like “But you have so much going for you,” or anything that starts with “When I was your age..”
  • Consider that they will need time and the situation may not be resolved in one talk.
  • Share some web articles that may help them to see they are not alone in how they are feeling.

Reaching Out for Help

If you or your child is in immediate distress or is thinking about hurting themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You also can text the Crisis Text Line (HELLO to 741741) or use the Lifeline Chat on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.

Once you have successfully spoken with your child about their mental health, then the next step is encouraging them to reach out for help. With online and in-person treatment, there are many options to work with a mental health professional.

Group therapy is a treatment which helps someone explore issues that may be contributing to their depression, identify negative self-talk, and gain insight in order to create positive change in their symptoms while among others who may be experiencing similar feelings.

Here at Balance Treatment Center, we strive to treat the whole person, and we create individualized treatment plans for each and every client for a wide variety of mental health conditions. Contact us to find out more or to set up an intake appointment.

Remember to keep the lines of communication open with your child. Offer to spend time during this holiday season together doing things they enjoy, and allow them to share their progress or challenges with you. Personal growth and working on good mental health can be a family activity that everyone takes part in.