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Holiday depression: There's help!

November 5, 2003

Now that the Halloween pumpkins have been tossed in the trash, the glint of tinsel and flash of color in malls is proof that the holidays are looming. For some, the weeks ahead might be a vision dancing in Norman Rockwell's head. For others, the weeks will wreak havoc, producing emotions as unwanted as a lump of coal.

"There is an expectation of what the holidays should be like," said Roger Danchise, associate dean and director of Counseling and Student Development. "Students might say, 'I've worked so hard and I'm so tired and I want (the holidays) to be perfect.' The trouble is, lots of kids go home to families that aren't so perfect."

Depression among college students is being scrutinized on college campuses around the country in the wake of recent deaths at NYU, one of which has been ruled a suicide and two others suspected suicides.

To be sure, signs of depression must be taken seriously by college counseling professionals. But here's the good news: as a mental health issue, depression is extremely reactive to treatment, especially if it is caused by external factors, as in the case of holiday-triggered depression, according to Danchise.

In the 2002-2003 school year, 58 Bentley students were treated for depression-- about 1.5 percent of that school year's undergraduate population. While there is no way to know how many students went untreated, counselors don't just wait for Bentley students to walk through the doors. There is careful, if somewhat subtle, monitoring of students for danger signs -- through Residential Life, Campus Police, Judicial Affairs, Spiritual Life and input from parents.

The number of students seeking help for depression definitely increases around the holidays, according to Danchise, but numbers also increase at the end of the spring semester. "The holidays coincide with the end of a long first semester when there is generalized stress for college students," he said.

Associate Professor of Behavioral and Political Sciences Greg Hall says holiday depression can occur before, during and after the holidays-- and that the adult population is just as susceptible to holiday depression as the student population.

"Holiday depression is episodic," said Hall. "Christmas will come and go; for the vast majority of people, the depression is going to pass without significant damage."

According to Hall, holiday depression is part of what he calls "Significant calendar date depression" that includes anniversaries, birthdays and other dates that trigger depression. But holiday depression is also part of a larger phenomenon of 'trying to attain the ideal'-- and too often, the ideal is dictated by Madison Avenue.

"The expectation is that people are going to be in jolly, jovial moods (going into the holidays). Individuals who aren't experiencing that can feel a greater sense of impending dread and anxiety about having to perform or live up to the holiday ideal."

Hall points out that it's normal to be pro-active about physical health: "We brush our teeth, we wash our hands and we see a doctor when we have a fever. But we also need to be proactive about our mental health."

So is there any way to beat holiday depression?

"We can develop skills to alter the environment-- to change what's out there that's causing us to be depressed," said Danchise. "We can't change the fact that when the holidays are over, it's still winter and the weather is still miserable."

Both Danchise and Hall agree: Depression can be treated.

If you are a student and feeling depressed, please ask for help at any one of the following student resources, or talk to an RA, trusted advisor or friend.

Health Services, (781-891-2222)
Counseling and Student Development, (781-891-2274)
Spiritual Life, (781-891-2194)
Residential Center, (781-891-2148)
Campus Police (Emergency: 781-891-3131)

Faculty and staff suffering from depression can find help through Bentley?s Employee Assistance Program at Mt. Auburn Hospital,, or from a family health care provider.

BENTLEY UNIVERSITY is one of the nation’s leading business schools, dedicated to preparing a new kind of business leader – one with the deep technical skills, broad global perspective, and high ethical standards required to make a difference in an ever-changing world. Our rich, diverse arts and sciences program, combined with an advanced business curriculum, prepares informed professionals who make an impact in their chosen fields. Located on a classic New England campus minutes from Boston, Bentley is a dynamic community of leaders, scholars and creative thinkers. The Graduate School emphasizes the impact of technology on business practice, in offerings that include MBA and Master of Science programs, PhD programs in accountancy and in business, and customized executive education programs. The university enrolls approximately 4,100 full-time undergraduate, 140 adult part-time undergraduate, 1,430 graduate, and 43 doctoral students. Bentley is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges; AACSB International – The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; and the European Quality Improvement System, which benchmarks quality in management and business education. For more information, please visit

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