Patient Management During the Holiday Season: What Clinicians Should Know
During the holiday season, patients may suffer from depression, stress, and feelings of isolation.
Even as an adult, I get excited about witnessing the first snow of the season. Because of an unusual weather pattern this weekend, I experienced more than just the first snow; it was a blizzard! Many of us have gotten more than our annual snow total all in one day. But for me, the snow serves as a reminder that the holiday season is just around the corner.
As healthcare providers, we should consider what the holiday season means to our patients. For some, it may not always be a pleasant time. Depression can increase when patients are overwhelmed with the hustle and bustle of the season. Financially, patients may struggle with purchasing gifts for loved ones when they cannot afford to pay the heating bill. Older adults who may have lost a spouse or are ill may find that the memories of previous holidays make them sad. Many patients find themselves without invitations to holiday parties, making them feel isolated. Sixty-four percent of people with mental illness report that the holiday season causes their conditions to worsen.1,2
Alcohol is frequently included in the festivities during the holidays, and the number of motor vehicle accidents often increase during this time. Over the past 5 years, an average of 300 people have died due to drunk driving accidents in the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Alcohol-related fatalities make up more than 25% of all crash fatalities.³ Inclement weather may also contribute to motor vehicle accidents during the colder months, with more than 1300 people killed and more than 116,800 people injured annually due to snowy, slushy, or icy pavement.⁴
As clinicians, we can improve the holidays for our patients by reminding them to slow down and be mindful that this time of year is meant to be fun, especially as we share time with family and friends. Point out that alcohol is a depressant; overconsumption can increase depression. Decreasing alcohol intake might be helpful not only in reducing depression but also preventing automobile accidents. Remind patients to drive defensively so as to be wary of problematic drivers, to never text and drive, and to be aware of their surroundings, especially in areas with snowy or icy roads. They should drive slowly and make sure to include extra time to get to their destination.
Children and teens may also be affected by the holidays. Pediatric providers may consider checking in with their patients to assess how they are feeling during this time. Parents may want to plan activities that the family can enjoy together. It is a great time of year to include grandparents in preparing meals for a holiday party and in playing and interacting with grandchildren. Make sure that gifts are age appropriate and safe; young children can accidentally ingest small parts of toys. Fire safety should also be enforced, as celebratory fireworks can cause burns.
Enjoy a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!
- Kerr M. Holiday depression. Healthline Media website. https://www.healthline.com/health/depression/holidays#1. Published March 21, 2016. Accessed December 11, 2018.
- Mental health and the holiday blues [news release]. Arlington, VA: National Alliance on Mental Illness. November 19, 2014. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2014/Mental-health-and-the-holiday-blues. Accessed December 11, 2018.
- Holiday drunk driving facts. US Department of Transportation website. https://www.transportation.gov/www.transportation.gov/TransportationTuesday/holiday-drunk-driving-facts. Published December 12, 2017. Accessed December 11, 2018.
- Safe winter roads protect lives. Safe Winter Roads website. http://www.safewinterroads.org/safety/. Accessed December 11, 2018.