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S’pore unaffected by seasonal depression but mental health issues can strike amid festivities: Experts

SINGAPORE — For Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Janissa Goh, festive occasions and parties used to be a difficult time when she took to social media to try to make it seem like she was having fun when she was not.

Experts say that getting through the festive season can bring on anxiety and depression for some people.

Experts say that getting through the festive season can bring on anxiety and depression for some people.

Singapore

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SINGAPORE — For Ngee Ann Polytechnic student Janissa Goh, festive occasions and parties used to be a difficult time when she took to social media to try to make it seem like she was having fun when she was not.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be part of every party and be included in every picture posted on Instagram. But then I thought to myself, ‘What’s the point?’

“It was unhealthy," Ms Goh, 24, said. "I would spend two to three hours after every gathering, alone in my room, editing pictures to make it look like I was having fun, even though I wasn’t,” she told TODAY, adding that she has put these behind her.

During the season of merry-making and festivities, with social media brimming with pictures of fun social gatherings and family reunions, celebrating might be the last thing some people feel like doing, experts said.

On top of the holiday-induced "fomo" (fear of missing out) that some people might experience, experts said that mental health issues could come to the fore during the festive season, especially among those who suffer from depression associated with social loneliness or borderline personality disorder, they said.

In some countries, this time of year sees a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression, normally triggered by the lack of sunlight for extended periods of time such as in autumn and winter.

Experts said that this disorder does not apply in Singapore, where there is plenty of sunlight all year round. Mr Gifford Chan, principal clinical psychologist at Mind Care Therapy Suites, said: “Even our rainy season does not deprive us of sunlight to the extent of seasonal affective disorder.”

However, the pressure to be joyous and included in gatherings during the festive season might still be overwhelming to some, private counsellor James Leong said.

Mr Leong, who works for Listen without Prejudice, a counselling service, said: “When these circumstances become too overwhelming and stacked against the societal pressure to be happy, a disconnect occurs, which can cause anxiety and depression.” 

Associate Professor John Wong, head and senior consultant at the department of psychology medicine at National University Hospital, pointed out that the differences between what an individual has and does not have, such as money and good presents, can come to play in this period.

“Apart from the material aspect, there is also the joy of reunion and celebrations versus the sadness of social isolation of being forgotten or rejected,” he said.

He added that this could be further exacerbated by social media, as it brings about greater awareness of the haves and have-nots.

NUMBER OF PEOPLE SEEKING HELP

Ms Wong Ying Li, the head of youth division at Fei Yue Family Service Centre, said that she sees an increase in the number of young people who seek help during the holiday season, usually for relationship problems, social-emotional issues and studies-related reasons.

On the other hand, five other experts interviewed by TODAY said that they did not see an increase in patient load during the holiday season.

One of them is Dr Lim Boon Leng, private psychiatrist of Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, who said: “In general, there is less work stress over the holiday season and this counteracts the loneliness some feel over holiday seasons.”

Ms Charlene Heng, head of core services at Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) said that the organisation has not observed a “significant change in the number of calls” that its 24-hour crisis hotline receives during the holiday season.

“While this time of the year may bring on anxiety and loneliness to some, there is little evidence that more are feeling depressed or suicidal during the holiday season. Suicide remains a major public health concern that may occur throughout the year,” she added.

HOLIDAY-INDUCED FOMO

The fear of missing out on social gatherings is a reason why many people turn up for these, even though it could lead to feelings of isolation.

Ms Lee Wen Hui, 29, said that she gets feelings of anxiety at this time of the year whenever she reflects on her list of resolutions for the year that she has not accomplished.

“Just thinking about all the things that I failed to do this year makes me not want to join any gatherings,” the customer service officer said.

“Sometimes you can’t help but compare other people’s lives to yours, and of course, it can make me feel bad about myself,” Ms Lee added.

A freelance music teacher who wants to be known only as Muhammad, 31, said that he feels especially isolated during the festive season.

The father of two, who suffers from psychosis, said that it is difficult for him to leave the house during this period because he can be affected by almost anything including bright lights and loud noises.

“Whenever I want to go out, my mind just overthinks and that tires me out. I’ll just end up staying in my room by myself,” he said.

Related topics

depression anxiety mental health holidays fomo social activities social media

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