It's a myth that the suicide rate increases during the holidays, but therapists at one of Southern California's largest mental health services agencies say they do observe a spike in depression among children and teenagers this time of year.
Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services provides therapy and counseling to about 4,000 kids and their families each year. Therapists at Didi Hirsch say for children and teenagers with mental health issues, the holiday season can trigger feelings of grief, loss and fluctuating emotions.
"The holiday time is generally a time for most of us that's associated with joy, happiness, getting together with family, and celebrating," says Lyn Morris, Didi Hirsch’s vice president of clinical operations.
"However, for some of our clients in our child and family programs, depression can surface during the holidays, especially in our younger kids and adolescents," she says.
When left untreated, depression can lead to poor school performance, alcohol and drug use and other mental health conditions, says Morris.
The number of after-hours emergency calls coming in to Didi Hirsch doubles during this time of year, she says, adding that the intensity of the calls range from kids acting out at school to crisis situations.
"A parent will call and a child has locked himself in a bedroom and they are having an outburst, or one particular call I know, a child was threatening to jump out of his window, and he was on a third-story apartment," says Morris.
Kids generally miss more therapy appointments during December, due to school breaks, holiday festivities, and other disruptions in their schedules, she notes.
But that doesn't mean kids don't need support during this period, Morris adds.
During the holidays, the Didi Hirsch therapists closely monitor their youngest clients for signs of depression, such as more crying, changes in eating or sleeping habits, and more complaints of headaches or bellyaches, she says.
Parents should help with this monitoring as well, and seek support if they think they need it, adds Morris.
"The best gift they can give their child during the holidays is to get them help, if they need it," she says.