In 1981, I wrote an article called, “Christmas and psychopathology” (Arch Gen Psychiatry 1981;38[Dec]:1377-81). In the Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature, I found 103 magazine articles across 8 years under “Depression, Mental.” Sixteen dealt with Christmas depression.
This week, I did a Google search for “Christmas” (13,700,000 hits) and “depression” (237,000 hits). This weighty body of Web lore suggests that the popular press assumes many people get depressed before Christmas.
Why is there such an interest in Christmas depression? I think it’s because few of us feel as happy as we think we ought to over the holidays. Given the stresses of shopping, family obligations, and emotional baggage from previous years, I’m surprised that more people do not get depressed.
The fact is, however, that fewer people report to psychiatric emergency rooms just before Christmas than at other times of the year. My study in 1981 and most similar studies show that hospital admissions, suicide attempts and completions, and even letters to advice columnists go down just before Christmas, then go back up immediately afterwards. When you average the pre- and post-holiday statistics, Christmas is not one of the busiest seasons for psychiatric emergencies.
Maybe depression doesn’t increase before Christmas because people use their best coping strategies to get through the holiday. And maybe there is a little Christmas magic after all.