Depression and the Holidays

A great deal has been written about the topic of depression during the holiday season. I’m not going to rehash that. Today’s blog is more of a personal reflection on my professional experiences with depression among the elderly and individuals needing long-term care.

In one of my positions as a psychologist, I “covered” skilled nursing facilities. That’s the newer term for nursing homes. Today’s skilled nursing facility (SNF) is unlike the nursing home or old people’s home of the past. A SNF has both “patients” in the traditional sense, that is, individuals who are recovering from a medical or surgical illness, and non-patients. The non-patients are long-term residents or clients: the younger physically disabled, the frail elderly, and the mentally disabled. Each SNF is somewhat like a small town without children. There are town officials (registered and licensed practical nurses), town employees (certified nursing assistants, dietary workers, physical, occupational and speech therapists), citizens in no official capacity (clients or patients), county or state officials (owners, physicians), and visiting dignitaries (medical and psychological specialty consultants). What makes the SNF unlike a real small town, however, is that only the citizens actually live in the town. Everyone else is an out-of-towner with lives separate from the townies.

Now for the holidays. The holidays are everywhere: TV, SNF décor, the conversations of the out-of-towners. There are more visiting dignitaries, the ones who come once a year and sing or dance or give out small gender neutral and politically correct gifts. All, absolutely all, of the dignitaries mean well. They want to bring cheer and happiness to the townies. But they, too, go home.

The townies? Well, they are left with their memories and thoughts. Remember that year that Santa left his footprints in the ashes? Oh. No one but me is left to remember. Remember sliding down that big hill behind the school? I remember the feeling. But my body can no longer feel the experience or any, for that matter. Remember – no, I’d rather not. My mom drank and my dad scowled. Remember. No, I can no longer remember. What are the holidays? Where is everyone?

Some townies get out of town to family from out of town. They bring back peace and, best of all, they bring back hope.

Hope – one of the criteria for happiness and a stalwart defense against depression.

So, my blog readers, I wish you hope in this crazy world. Please spare a thought in your busy days for those who have little or none of it.


Mary Lou Bernardo, PhD, MSN


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