The holidays are over. If you enjoyed them, it’s a few weeks packed full of celebration, family, friends, food, cheer, happiness, and optimism about what the new year might bring. But for others, the time during and after the holidays can serve as a major source of stress, sadness, loneliness and dread about the flip of the calendar. 

Sometimes it can be a mix of all the above — good times intermingling with thoughts of dread, depending on the day or even time of day. 

No matter under which category you fall, it’s safe to say we all experience ups and downs this time of year. But if you’ve been feeling down more often than not or find you are simply not yourself, you could be dealing with major depressive disorder. 

Four experts at the Lindner Center of HOPE shared their thoughts about major depressive disorder, its symptoms, its treatment and tips for taking care of your mental health this winter. 

What are the symptoms of major depressive disorder?

Thomas Schweinberg, Psy.D., Staff Psychologist: Some signs include feeling down or sad, but additional depressive disorder criteria have to do with physiological functioning such as having trouble sleeping (too much, not enough), disruptions in appetite, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and memory problems. 

Anna Ward, M.S.N., A.P.R.N., Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: The world is very stressful and it’s normal to feel down or overwhelmed. Are you taking time out from stressors or are you really disengaged from the things that restore you? We always consider the level of functioning: How are you doing at work and in your relationships — are you noticing a big change there? 

Tracy Cummings, M.D., Associate Chief Medical Officer for Clinical Excellence and Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Making a formal diagnosis of a mood disorder requires a constellation of systems. Someone needs to have a persistently low mood or irritability — irritability can be particularly true for adolescents — sustained for at least a couple weeks. Along with this, additional symptoms are required such as a loss of interest in previously enjoyed things, change in energy level, disruptions to sleep, altered eating patterns, decreased concentration ability and even safety concerns. The level of severity depends upon functional impairment and how low we’re heading down the valley of a depressive mood state. 

Margot Brandi, M.D., Medical Director of Sibcy House: I’d add hopelessness as one of the biggest symptoms to address when talking to a family member, friend, etc. — anyone you think is struggling with depression. Feelings of guilt and shame are also very prominent as well as hopelessness and worthlessness. These feelings make the situation more concerning and that’s when you should go talk to someone. 

What does treatment look like? 

Dr. Schweinberg: The treatment is twofold: Antidepressant medication in combination with psychotherapy. One or the other could help, and it’s best to approach treatment from both directions. What’s tricky about depression is a person’s energy and motivation are low, so engaging in treatment is a challenge. That’s why the people around you need to help. Loved ones who see someone suffering may offer advice and encouragement, which are good but won’t significantly address depression. That’s why it’s important to get treatment sooner than later. 

Dr. Brandi: The good news is that there is treatment, and people can actually get better. Major depressive disorder is an illness like any other illness. I would start by talking with your primary care physician, tell them how you’re doing and what’s been going on. The PCP could start you on medication or refer you to a psychiatrist or a therapist who could begin the process of psychotherapy.

There is a way to feel better — you don’t have to wait, and you don’t have to push through. Holding on to ideas of “I can do it by myself” aren’t great, because the longer you wait, the more difficult it is to get better. 

Dr. Cummings: For us, in the child and adolescent world, we’re really wanting to build up a connection in any way — be it social or academic. We want our patients to get involved and feel purpose. We also try to think of ways children or adolescents can be involved and what they can do for themselves or their families. If someone has a sense of belonging, that can be so protective, particularly with depression. 

Anna Ward: Since the mental health system can be bogged down, group support can be great too. People enjoy meeting other people and realizing they’re not alone. Free community groups can help you feel less lonely. Even though we’re looking for persistence of symptoms, if you aren’t functioning or having harmful thoughts, you should get treatment immediately and call about getting inpatient help. 

How does the winter affect this disorder? 

Dr. Brandi: The holidays can have a pretty intense emotional impact on so many people and it isn’t always a positive one. It can be a reminder of things you’ve lost or things you wanted to be at the end of the year but are not. Also, there is a seasonal affective component, which is a specifier of an episode. Many people are susceptible to the lack of light, which is another trigger. 

Dr. Cummings: The holidays are very hard and frequently diagnoses come in pairs. It’s not uncommon for people to experience depression with other diagnoses. For example, the holidays revolve a lot around food, and if someone struggles with their relationship with food, depression can also creep in.

What is the success rate for treating major depressive disorder? 

Dr. Brandi: There is a very high success rate. For most people who take the time to get to the right treatment and the right therapist, there is high success in overcoming depression. 

Dr. Cummings: It’s a hopeful tale. It’s going to take time, and you’re going to need more than one therapy session. It is a commitment to partake in treatment, but it is a hopeful course to take. 

How does the Lindner Center of HOPE help with major depressive disorder? 

Dr. Schweinberg: We’re equipped to treat depression in multiple ways. We have outpatient treatment with a prescriber, and inpatient, residential treatment. We also have a neuromodulation center with transcranial magnetic stimulation and electroconvulsive therapy. There is also a partial hospitalization group for children and adults.

Dr. Cummings: Lindner is a very special center in many ways including that we also have a research department. Someone could be involved in a study for one mode of treatment while receiving additional treatment interventions all while under one roof.

5 Ways to Take Care of Mental Health in the New Year 

Although there is no one-size-fits-all answer for the diagnosis and treatment of major depressive disorder, there are a few ways to help keep your mental health in check during these long winter months. 

1. Self-Care

Be attentive to self-care and your own needs. There’s no need to make New Year’s resolutions. Instead consider setting reasonable, attainable goals or projects that you can get involved in. 

2. Family History

Take a proactive approach to taking care of yourself by becoming aware of what’s in your family history. 

3. Connectedness

Connectedness is important — in whatever fashion that may be. For a young person, a family member may need to help them connect by spending more time together and getting involved. 

4. Overcoming Stigma

Getting treatment works. There’s no shame in reaching out for help. 

5. Mindfulness 

Be mindful of your own habits, including nutrition, exercise, and sleep. Watch things like your social media intake. Think about what you need to succeed and reject things that cause you harm. This could mean saying “yes” or sometimes “no” to be our healthiest selves.

Are you struggling with major depressive disorder? Contact the experts at the Lindner Center of HOPE at 513-536-4673 or find them at