Mental Health and the Holiday Blues | NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness

Posted on November 19, 2014

Arlington, Va.—High expectations, loneliness and stress can lead to the “Holiday Blues” during the season from Thanksgiving to New Year’s. In most cases symptoms are temporary, but they can be serious if they last for more than two weeks, leading to clinical anxiety and/or depression.

According to a recent survey, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that approximately 24% of people with a diagnosed mental illness find that the holidays make their condition “a lot” worse and 40% “somewhat” worse.”

Approximately 300 individuals participated in the survey, Nov. 13-18, 2014, with 292 answering the specific question. Others detailed experiences.

“For many people the holiday season is not always the most wonderful time of the year” said NAMI medical director Ken Duckworth. “What the survey shows is a tremendous need for people to reach out and watch out for each other in keeping with the spirit of the season.”

“The holiday season beams a spotlight on everything that is difficult about living with depression,” said a Massachusetts woman who responded to the survey. “The pressure to be joyful and social is tenfold.”

Approximately 755 of overall respondents reported that the holidays contribute to feeling sad or dissatisfied and 68% financially strained. 66% have experienced have loneliness, 63% too much pressure and 57% unrealistic expectations. 55% found themselves remembering happier times in the past contrasting with the present, while 50% were unable to be with loved ones.

NAMI offers information about holiday blues at:

Key points include:

  • Holiday blues are different from mental illness, but short-term mental health problems must be taken seriously. They can lead to clinical anxiety and depression.
  • People already living with mental illness are often affected by the holiday blues. Individuals, families and friends should know symptoms and watch out for each other.
  • There are many ways to avoid or minimize holiday blues.
  • Alcohol is a depressant. Don’t drink when feeling stressed or down.
  • Local NAMI affiliates can be a source of support.
  • It’s a myth that suicides increase during the holidays, but suicide risks are always serious.
  • Children and teens get the blues too. The highest rate for child psychiatric hospitalizations occurs in winter.

For tips on avoiding holiday blues, see

“Be patient. Keep expectations low. Inform family in advance of your limits,” said one survey respondent.

“If holidays were a special time in the past and you try to recreate a time long gone, you are setting yourself up for sadness,” said another. “Create new memories. Have some fun.”

About NAMI

NAMI is the nation's largest grassroots mental health organization dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness.


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