December 16th 2015
How to deal with loneliness and depression at Christmas
December 10th 2015
You’re not alone. We spoke to a Consultant Psychiatrist to seek his advice when it comes to looking after your mental health and spotting and dealing with the signs of depression at this time of year
It’s one of the most wonderful times of the year, but as the John Lewis Man on the Moon Christmas Advert demonstrates, it can also be one of the loneliest.
According to Age UK, one million older people can go a month without speaking to anyone, and so the charity has partnered up with the department store to call for more people to help by donating to the charity to fund services that provide support to those affected.
A widespread problem, loneliness and increasing isolation also affects people of all ages, taking its toll on our mental health on a wider scale as we feel the pressure to have the ‘perfect’ Christmas and take stock of what we may have or may not have achieved during the year. “If one is feeling depressed, Christmas makes the feelings of depression more prominent because there is a dissonance between how one is supposed to feel during this festive season and how one is truly feeling inside,” says Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Rafael Euba of The London Psychiatry Centre. “Christmas does not make us depressed, but it highlights what may be missing in our lives, particularly if one is feeling isolated, or going through a difficult separation.”
Am I depressed?
If you suspect that either yourself or a someone you know is suffering from depression or another mental health problem, an increase in fatigue and apathy could be the first symptoms to look out for. “Difficulties sleeping and becoming withdrawn are typical signs of depression,” explains Dr Euba. “Lack of energy, pessimism and feeling generally anxious and apprehensive are also common complaints in depression. The main symptom however, is an inability to enjoy life. Getting up in the morning can be a real struggle when life feels so dreary,” he adds.
Could social media be partly to blame?
Although our Instagram feeds are awash with images of people’s picture-perfect Christmas plans, it’s easy to forget that what we’re seeing is a filtered version of reality - more carefully crafted than just clicking ‘Valencia,’ ‘Hefe’ or ‘Mayfair.’ What’s presented is more often than not a strategic edit of what our favourite social media socialites want us to see, causing us to compare and despair and thereby increase feelings of isolation and inadequacy. “Social media is primarily a means of communication, but it also distorts the views we have of other people's lives,” says Dr Euba. “Everyone has a perfectly well-adjusted and contented life, according to their Facebook pages. This perception will make us feel more inadequate and more like a failure, when it inevitably clashes with our less than perfect existence.”
How do I fight feelings of loneliness and depression at Christmas?
As humans, the physical and mental effects caused by loneliness could be partly attributed to it acting at odds to how we are naturally wired. “We are not meant to be alone,” says Dr Euba. “Human beings are designed to seek each other's company and to live in groups.
“If we find ourselves isolated, it is imperative that we get out there and join a group of some kind: a club, a gym, an appreciation group, it doesn't matter, as long as it helps us transcend ourselves beyond the limits of our own minds,” he recommends. “If the isolation is due to an old feud or argument, Christmas will be the ideal time to solve it and build new bridges.”
What if you suspect a loved one is suffering from depression, loneliness or another mental health issue this Christmas? “If this person is depressed and is someone close to you, you can try to persuade them to seek help. If they are lonely, well, they have you, so perhaps you could let them know that you care for their wellbeing. That will make them feel less lonely.”
Similarly, should your symptoms be preventing you from enjoying life on a day-to-day basis, visiting an expert for additional support could prove invaluable because ultimately, you shouldn’t have to face feelings of loneliness and depression on your own. “If the feelings of depression are more or less constant and pervasive, or if the depression is affecting your life to a significant extent and it is more than a mere bout of winter blues, talk to a professional. We are here to help.”
Thanks to Dr Rafael Euba, Consultant Psychiatrist, The London Psychiatry Centre, 72 Harley Street London W1.