Recognizing Signs of Holiday Depression

out of focus Christmas tree
For many people, the impending holiday season represents a time of joy and celebrating traditions with family and friends. However, for others, it can become a time of stress, fatigue, anxiety or depression, particularly this year with the inability to be with family and friends. With social distancing practices limiting opportunities for gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the senior population is particularly vulnerable to holiday depression.

“Depression is very common during the holiday season,” said Steven Simmons, community education coordinator at the CHI St. Vincent Senior Behavioral Health Unit. “We want to be with our family and the language of love is expressed through hugs and kisses for a lot of people. For our senior adult population, those are things that they often miss out on, especially now during the pandemic.”

Recognizing the Signs of Holiday Depression

Whether it’s caused by loneliness, grieving the loss of a family member or thoughts of time passing by, it’s important to recognize signs of holiday depression, such as feeling worthless or helpless, decreased energy and changes in appetite or weight.

“I think the first thing to look for when we communicate with our loved ones is the lack of interest in doing anything related to the holidays,” Simmons said. “They might find a reason to miss or avoid a family tradition. It could be something as simple as filling out Christmas cards or shopping and they have no interest. I think that’s a big indicator that something may be wrong.”

Reaching Out to Isolated Family Members

In addition to knowing and recognizing the signs of holiday depression, it’s also important to reach out to isolated or lonely family members and make note of any changes in mood or behavior. While the pandemic has limited chances for face-to-face interactions, platforms such as Zoom or FaceTime provide safe and easy ways of connecting with loved ones.

“If we encounter someone who is suffering from holiday depression, the first thing we should do is acknowledge those feelings and the emotional state they are going through,” said Simmons. “Sadness during the holidays is truly unique to each individual. What makes one person sad may not necessarily make someone else sad, but we definitely want to acknowledge those feelings and reach out to health care professionals to talk about them if needed.”

Mental illness occurs in 10–20 percent of individuals over age 55 and the CHI St. Vincent Senior Behavioral Health Unit is ready to help. Our team of specially trained health care professionals provides cohesive and high-quality treatment to patients with depression, anxiety, hallucinations, anger, isolation, memory loss, suicidal thoughts and unresolved grief. To learn more, visit