Experts See More January Blues

Forget the cliche holiday blues. Social workers, therapists and counselors say more people seek help for depression in January than in December.

Going back to work, burst family illusions, self-reflection triggered by the new year and December's credit card statements can all be bummers, but experts say it's often the constellation of circumstances that can push people over the edge.

For Pat, a member of the group Al-Anon for families of alcoholics, one particularly bad January seemed to compound all his problems of the previous year.

"The holidays were an opportunity for us to compensate for the shortcomings of the preceding year," said Pat, who was referring to the problems he had with his wife's alcoholism.

In an attempt to make it up to his four children, Pat said he ran himself ragged December, buying everything on the children's wish lists.

"We probably spent 25 percent more than what we should have," Pat said.

Then on Christmas morning, "my middle son Dave approached me, and said, 'It's really nice to have all these gifts from Santa Claus, but how come you didn't get me anything?'"

That blow resonated with Pat. He made a mental note to let his kids know he cared the next year. By mid-January, the Christmas spending spree had begun to take a different toll on the family.

"It was always a tough time anticipating the bills and dealing with it," he said. "All the scrambling I did was just met with more drinking on [his wife's] part because she didn't want to face the debt."

With or without alcoholism in the family, counselors say the post-holiday time has a way of magnifying family or personal issues.

In January, "We get one-third to one-half more people, at least," said Jennifer Falotico Taylor, a clinical psychologist at McLean Hospital for psychiatric services in Belmont, Mass.

"Mid-January, is usually about when the bills come, and things in general around people look pretty bleak," said Taylor.

However, Taylor said a lot of the January blues come from a residual personal disillusionment during the holidays.

Reality and the New Year

"[Her patients] often say, 'I thought I was enjoying the holidays, but I was covering up that I really wasn't having a good time,'" Taylor said.

"It never felt real -- they felt like they were putting on an act," Taylor said of her patients. "A couple of weeks into it, they realized the role they put on started to crumble."

According to Taylor, by January people who felt pushed around or disillusioned during the holidays start going through a great deal of self-destructive distractions such as shopping, eating, drinking or starting romantic relationships.

"It's getting into a relationship to cover up their feelings," she said.

By January's end, Taylor said the self-destruction can escalate.

"Things get out of balance -- suddenly things are bad again, and things sort of crash and burn," she said. "Many times the drinking gets worse or they'll start to isolate, and families get worried."

Pat, who helps run the group Al-Anon, said he noticed January is a very busy time of year to help new and old members. One of his associates, Val, has been going through a particularly rough January.

"My sister and I had been really close growing up," Val said. "She's an alcoholic, and she had seven years clean and sober, and now she's back drinking."

Val said her sister's drinking problem interfered with family time over the holidays, since she chose to go out partying instead of visiting.

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