One old song may say " 'Tis the season to be jolly," but for many, the holidays bring just the opposite response.
"People have extra high expectations of Christmas; they have the idea it will make them happy," said Kathy Fisher, Adult Program Manager at Charter Canyon Hospital, Orem. "They expect to be closer to their families, to be spiritually fulfilled."When it doesn't happen, it's a bigger letdown. We are constantly reminded it's a family time, but if we have family problems, they intensify."
Fisher said extra tasks, obligations and expectations put people under stress. She suggests people "unclutter" celebrations by prioritizing.
"I have taught seminars called `unplugging the Christmas machine,' and I asked participants to make a list of the 10 values they want most in their holiday celebrations. Once they know what is important, they can design the holiday that will mean the most to them."
After making the lists, most people decide to cut back on commercialism and emphasize time spent with family and friends.
Most children surveyed say they would prefer more quality time with their parents to more new toys, Fisher said.
"Ironically, December is the month when children see the least of their parents, who are out Christmas shopping or at company Christmas parties."
Fisher suggests family activities, such as reading stories, baking, doing puzzles, sledding and ice skating.
Winter weather can also contribute to depression, she said.
"If the weather is bad, there is more depression; many people suffer from seasonal affective disorder. It helps if you can get above the inversion for a while. I try to go to the ski resorts or Heber once a week."
Many make it through December, but can't face the new year, she said.
"There is a big influx of depression in January. People can keep it together for the holidays, but then they fall apart. They feel let down, like they have nothing to look forward to."
Charter Canyon Hospital's crisis line gets about 2,000 calls per year. Calls decrease in December, then increase dramatically in January, according to records. Last January, there was a 15 percent increase nationally in those seeking help for depression, Fisher said.
If the depression lasts more than two weeks, Fisher said a physiological cause is likely.
"If someone has clinical depression, the worst thing you can do is tell them to snap out of it. It makes them feel guilty. You should be supportive, understanding and non-judgmental, and encourage them to get medical help.
"People can be judgmental, especially in this area. They don't understand clinical depression is a disease. They think depression is a moral or spiritual problem, so they tell you to stop wallowing in self-pity or that you are just a weak person."
Some symptoms of clinical depression are inability to sleep, lack of appetite, sadness, hopelessness and getting less pleasure out of things that used to be enjoyable, she said.
"No one is immune."