December: For many kids, it's about making snow angels; drinking hot cocoa; beaming with delight at holiday lights; spending time with family and friends; opening lots of presents and last but certainly not least; having no school or homework for almost two weeks. Unfortunately, this is not what every child anticipates during the holiday season. In fact, the holiday months can have quite the opposite effect, with children and adolescents more prone to exhibiting signs of depression.
"This is the time of year we see an increase in symptoms, whether it's an increase from an already existing depression or just a lull or lowering of good affect," said Tanya Gesek, school psychologist at Pine Grove Middle School in East Syracuse. "We tend to see an increase in depressive symptoms whether they exist during the rest of the year or not."
Gesek listed a variety of reasons for this trend, from seasonal influences (lack of sunlight and fresh air) to situations at home. Some kids find school to be a safe haven, particularly when the home setting is not so ideal.
"For a lot of kids, family isn't necessarily an area of comfort," Gesek said. "So when you have that many days off from school, and perhaps your economic situation doesn't make Christmas something to look forward to, [or] you might live in a very volatile, chaotic household, that much time away from school is scary."
Helena Davis of the Mental Health Association in New York confirmed the same causes with some additions.
"Around the holidays, if parents are depressed, children may also feel it," Davis said. "Also, financial problems, serious illness in the family, an absent family member (by divorce, deployment or death) or a family member with an addiction may all be triggers for depression around the holidays."
Fundamentally, causes of depression, whether chronic or transient, can be biochemical -- stemming from a brain chemical imbalance -- or they may be in response to difficult situations in a child's (or adult's) environment.