For many, the holidays are depressing because they can remind people of what they don't have — having family close by or the absence of a loving relationship. Dr. Dean Ornish is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California at San Francisco.
"The problem of being depressed is that you're really seeing things through a really dark glass. That sense of helplessness and hopelessness that's a hallmark of depression — it's not just that you feel like things are bad now, but you feel like they always will be, and that's what makes things so depressing. And so if you can spend time with your friends and family, that can be a good antidote to that, but if you need to see a therapist and you can afford it, you know that's money well-spent, especially during the holidays."
Dr. Ornish says depression is treatable, and one of the best cures is to find a way to do something to help somebody else.
"So if you can spend time with your friends and family, that's great. But if they're not nearby and you can't spend time to get to them, then go to the hospital and see if you can volunteer and just, you know, make a difference in someone else's life and it's not only helping them, it's also the most selfish thing you can do for yourself — especially during the holidays."
Depression can darken the Christmas mood, since the season is in your face — the shopping, the music, the memories of past Christmas seasons.
"The holidays ultimately are not about, you know, material things and presents. They're about love and relationships — you know, the idea that you want to spend time with your loved ones and your friends. And if, for whatever reason, you don't have many loved ones or friends, or your family is broken up, or you have to be in a part of the world that you can't be around the people that you care about, that makes people feel sad because it brings it to their awareness."
Can social media help people cope with depression or loneliness?
"The need for a connection and community is a fundamental powerful human need that's as primal as eating and breathing and sleeping, right? We need to understand that it's not enough just to give people information — we need to deal with the deeper issues that you're talking about that are so important. And social media can be a good way of doing that. It's not the most intimate of life experiences, but even a little intimacy can go a long way."
Dr. Ornish was recently appointed by President Barack Obama to be a member of the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health.