Kids Feel the Holiday Blues, Too

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Holiday time is a difficult time for Nicole Leard.

“I don’t have time to spend with my little sisters, trying to get days off, and trying to just do the family traditions we always do and we’re not going to be able to do them because of money issues and stuff like that. Its really hard,” she said.

Leard was a 16 year old foster child when she started seeing a therapist for her depression which she says deepens during the holidays. Leard, now 18, is part of a growing number of adolescents that cope with depression. She has been workign with clinical counselor Diane Delk of Northwest Couseling Services in Columbus. Delk said depression in children during the holidays begins with the parents.

“Overall with children this time of year is really the stressors they see on the parents. The parents may be dealing with their own depression during the holidays so when a parent is distressed they naturally can not be attuning to the distress their child is going through,” Delk said.

The group Mental Health America of Franklin County advocates for mental health services. The group’s Neal Edgar said the structure of the typical family has changed. He said there are many expectations surrounding the holidays such as happiness, joyfulness and buying the perfect present that sometimes children can not keep up.

“You have more kids growing up in single parent families than you ever did before and then they have to deal with ok here is this parent and my other parent has custody too and my other parent has a wife so thats my step parent and I kind of half to deal with that, then there is my step brothers and step sisters.”

Edgar says that as parents stress out about everything going right during the holidays and talk about just getting through them, kids pick on it. He calls kids barometers of the family.

“Regardless of what ever happens with the changing of families today, mom or dad or if they are a single parent both in how they are doing and how their relationship is doing defines a kid’s sense of well being,” Edgar said.

Edgar said it is harder for children to talk about what they might be feeling so it is important for parents to pay attention to kids’ actions. He said to look for signs like irritabiliy, changes in eating habits or irregular sleeping patterns.

Therapist Diane Delk suggests the media plays a part in childhood depression. Many holiday TV programs focus on family and togetherness. And Delk said that is not reality for a lot of kids.

“You’ll see a special and the whole family is together. But some people are lonely and do not have that. So some children or teenagers are feeling they are missingout on that,” she said.

While Delk said her waiting list of kids dealing with depression lengthens during the holiday season, others, like OSU professor Steven Beck, doubt the holuday connection.

There is no data that I am aware of that over the holidays that children become depressed. In fact I really think that is a myth even with adults,” Beck said.

Beck said age plays the biggest role. Studies indicate the rates of children depression significantly increase as children get older. About three percent of children ages 9-11 are diagnosed with depression. that number jumps to 16% by the time kids reach the age of 17.

Beck said he can hypothesize in terms of who could be at rist for holiday blues, though.

“Kids from divorce families where there is alot of conflict in the divorce and I would also think kids from low socio-economic class would be more suceptiable because even kids in poverty watch tv and see kids getting wonderful gifts and toys,” the professor said.

Delk said to help depressed kids, she suggests children focus on their own lives and their own family traditions, rather that compare themselves with some TV program.

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