Guide to a perfect Christmas

What to say to those feeling holiday blues

Although the Christmas season is associated with merrymaking, it can be difficult for those struggling with depression or dealing with a recent loss or setback.

"Being surrounded by happy people who are enjoying close friendships can magnify the pain they are experiencing as it is a reminder of what they don't have," said Dr Adrian Wang, a consultant psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

"We often mean well when we say things like 'Time heals all wounds', or 'It's all in God's plan', but these platitudes bring little comfort," he said. They might seem insincere and too general, so it might be better to not say anything at all.

"Be physically there and, where appropriate, offer a hug or a kind touch," he advised.

"Make the effort to listen, but don't force them to talk if they don't want to."

Dr Wang said you can write a note offering your support and acknowledging that they are going through a difficult time. "What you want to do is remind them that they are not alone."

And, if they are not ready to socialise, do not force them to join in the fun or criticise them for not doing so, said Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Gleneagles Medical Centre.

Be empathetic and understanding, he said.

He had patients who needed time to heal but were forced to engage with people during festive seasons. They would rather just have small talk and leave conversations at a superficial level, said Dr Lim, as they may not have the energy or mood to go into details.

Or they may be afraid of embarrassing themselves by breaking down if they talk about their difficulties, he said.

Joyce Teo

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'What to say to those feeling holiday blues'. Print Edition | Subscribe