03/01/2013 17:55 GMT | Updated 05/03/2013 05:12 GMT

Watch Out for the January Blues

It may have been the season of goodwill, but for many there is a darker side to festive celebrations as hundreds of thousands of UK residents are expected to be affected by depression now Christmas is over.

For many, the season of goodwill will have been a far cry from the ideal of family gatherings overflowing with gifts and laughter and will instead have been a period haunted by disappointment, anxiety, sadness, depression or even suicidal thoughts.

The last thing someone suffering from depression may feel is optimistic about the New Year but depression is treatable with appropriate interventions and support. Many people generally struggle with depression and anxiety during the darkest months of the year. Christmas just adds extra stress.

The festive season is accompanied by a variety of stressors, including alcohol, changed sleep rhythms, increased financial burdens, and family conflicts. Losses during the year, be it the death of a loved one or economic setbacks, are also experienced more acutely during this time. With the added financial problems that arise when the bills arrive in January, it is little wonder that this is the most likely time of the year to experience depression.

Feelings of detachment, numbness or loss can make the symptoms of depression worse. For people who are on their own, January can be the loneliest time of the year. A sense of isolation can be felt much more acutely when the rest of the population appears to have spent the last four weeks celebrating and having a good time.

It is important for individuals to acknowledge the difficulties during this period and seek professional help with severe 'January blues' when needed. However, staying active and not isolated, reducing alcohol consumption and being aware and mindful of difficult family dynamics can lessen the blues.

For those worried about a friend's, relative's or even their own mental health, here is a checklist of signs and symptoms to look out for. A depressed patient will report at least five of the following symptoms for longer than a two week period:

  • Depressed mood, nearly every day during most of the day
  • Diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities
  • Significant weight loss, weight gain, or change in appetite
  • Too much or too little sleep
  • Agitation or lethargic
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
  • Impaired ability to concentrate or indecisiveness
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

However, psychological treatments for depression are many and varied. They range from the emotional support provided by the regular opportunity to talk about feelings to a professional, right through to specialised forms of psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

There are also a few simple steps that could help alleviate depression or minimise the risk of mental health issues arising this January:

  • Beware of drinking to excess.
  • Remember that alcohol is a depressant and can worsen the symptoms of depression.
  • If you are worried about being alone, find out what is going on in your local community or join a local volunteer group.
  • See whether there is a good day or time to visit friends or relatives if you crave company.
  • Sharing your feelings with others, such as friends and family members can help you identify and work through any emotional challenges you may be experiencing. Having a reliable network of social support can help combat the feelings of isolation that often accompany depression.
  • Regular physical activity has been shown to have antidepressant effects in people with mild to moderate depression.
  • Do not be afraid to seek professional help.

At a time when depression is affecting more and more people, it is important that the medical profession acts quickly to identify and treat the illness, thereby empowering the sufferer to address the issues and challenges facing them and move ahead with their lives.

Those looking for advice on how to cope with stress can find further information here.