Holiday season may worsen teens’ depressive symptoms; here’s how to handle it

Twinkling lights and mistletoes; festive carols and shopping; the excitement of opening presents and gorging on home-baked treats – it is no surprise that we all eagerly wait for the holiday season. While many may consider the merrymaking and family bonding to be the perfect respite from low moods and depressive symptoms, for some people, especially teens, the holiday season can be anything but that. Particularly teens from dysfunctional families, or those without a supportive social system, can find themselves struggling during this period. Those suffering from eating disorders or body image issues often end up with these symptoms during the festive season.

Recent studies have indicated an increasing incidence of depression among adolescents and teens. A study published in the journal Pediatrics in December 2016 found that the 12-month prevalence of major depressive episodes (MDEs) among adolescents and young adults increased from 8.7 percent in 2005 to 11.3 percent in 2014. More recently, data from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) showed that 12.8 percent adolescents aged between 12 and  17 years had an MDE during the year, while 9 percent had an MDE with severe impairment.

Although teens can experience depressive symptoms at any time during the year, the severity may increase during the holiday season. There could be many reasons for this – unavailability of family members due to preoccupation with holiday preparations, shorter days and lesser sunlight, changes in diet and routine, lack of sleep and/or exercise, or having unrealistic expectations. Accordingly, teens need to give the highest priority to their mental health during this time of the year.

Keeping depression at bay during festivities

Teens can follow some simple tips to keep depression at bay during the yearend holidays:

  • Dealing directly with negative emotions: Teens may have a natural instinct to avoid tackling their negative emotions directly. While this may provide a temporary relief, the problem can aggravate in the long term. Talking frankly to a loved one or a mental health professional can prevent such negative feelings from disturbing the teens’ emotional balance. Even the simple habit of writing down feelings in a daily journal can help alleviate depressive symptoms.
  • Making connections with peers: For some teens, finding people in the same age-group and spending quality time with them may be a constructive way to spend holidays. Yearend festivities offer several opportunities to socialize within the community, and these can be used to establish new acquaintances with peers who share similar interests. Doing so can greatly help in eliminating feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle: This may be easier said than done, but it is important for teens, especially those prone to depression, to stick to a regular routine and maintain a healthy lifestyle during the holiday season. This would mean limiting the intake of sugary and other unhealthy foods. Consuming healthy, whole foods, lean meats and lots of vegetables can do wonders. Along with balanced eating, getting adequate sleep and exercise is also very important.
  • Physical activities: Incorporating some physical activities into daily routine can also help lift the teens’ mood. Such activities can include a brisk walk, ice skating, or biking. The aim should be to spend at least some time outdoors on a daily basis.
  • Setting realistic expectations: Excessive advertising, commercialization and the desire to spend on clothes, games, gadgets and other material items can overwhelm both teens and adults. Setting realistic expectations can help in easing the pressures which the holiday season entails and avoiding negative thoughts which ultimately lead to depressive symptoms.

Treatment for teen depression

While a supportive family can assist in alleviating a teen’s depressive symptoms, it may be necessary to seek professional help if such symptoms become acute. Medication (antidepressants) and therapy are the two most common forms of treatment for teen depression. Comprehensive counseling sessions can help in dealing with teen’s negative emotions by channelizing them into positive thoughts.

If you know a teen boy exhibiting symptoms of depression, White River Academy can help. Located in Delta, Utah, it is a leading therapeutic boarding school in the United States that offers evidence-based teenage depression treatment. Call our 24/7 helpline or chat online with one of our representatives to know more about the best teen depression center in your vicinity.

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