The media version of New Year, what we see on TV programs, cultural events in the street and even advertising pieces broadcast on those dates, is characterized by joy, good wishes and love for loved ones.

In short, almost everything that makes up what in Psychology is called "positive affectivity": a state of mind that allows us to experience well-being and brings us closer to happiness.

However, just as it is not the same to say something as to do it, the New Year that we see through the screens does not have to correspond to the one that the vast majority of people live. For many, this time of year means nothing special, and is simply another mark on the calendar. For others, it is not only a time to feel happy, but also a time to feel sad, or distressed, or to feel hopeless.

Because the link between New Year’s Eve and depression makes it difficult for many people vulnerable to this mood disorder not to feel very bad during those days that link one year with the next. Here we’ll look at why this phenomenon occurs, and what can be done to address it.

The impact of cultural phenomena on mental health

Mood disorders linked to depression don’t just happen; the frequency and intensity of their symptoms are linked to our experiences.

This does not mean that certain events lead us irremediably to a depressed mood, of course. The way we interpret what happens around us plays a very important role in our mental health , making us more or less vulnerable depending on our belief system, attitudes and ideas. The same event can be traumatic for one individual, and emotionally neutral for another.

Now, although the subjectivity of each person influences our propensity to develop psychological disorders, these forms of interpreting reality are never entirely individual and detached from the context; the "glasses" with which we read what happens around us are not our own inventions built from 0; they are influenced by the cultural phenomena that mobilize thousands or millions of people . And New Year is a good example of this.

The relationship between the New Year and depression

Clearly, the mere existence of the New Year doesn’t put everyone at greater risk of suffering the symptoms of depression. This link between depressive disorder, on the one hand, and the holidays at the end of the year and the beginning of the next, on the other, is only significant in certain people who are predisposed to this psychological disorder.

How does this linkage occur? First of all, New Year’s Eve invites us to look at the past and make an assessment of what has happened to us. If we think it has been a bad year or things have happened for which we have suffered a lot, all the negative emotional charge of the last 12 months will come to us at once , accumulated in a single mental image, and this can be a sufficient reason for us to lose the desire to participate in any potentially pleasant and stimulating activity, which worsens our state of mind because we feel isolated, disconnected from the rest.

In addition, New Year encourages comparisons . Either by comparing our progress with other people, or by comparing us with the "I" of 12 months ago. If the result of this mental exercise is unfavourable, it will damage our self-esteem and our ability to believe in ourselves. Emotional stagnation and hopelessness are another basic ingredient of depression, and New Year’s can trigger them if we were already in a situation of emotional vulnerability.

Finally, the combination of all the above can give rise to an obsession with the idea that we are marked by many problems that follow us wherever we go, and that do not disappear even if months go by.

This is the breeding ground for rumination , which is the tendency to give much thought to the kind of thoughts that concern us. It is, in short, a kind of psychological “tunnel vision”, which leads us not to be able to stop thinking about distressing ideas, leaving us only a few hours to “rest” between one ruminative cycle and the next.

As you may have guessed, rumination is also associated with depression. Pessimism attracts pessimism, and one of the characteristics of depression is its self-referential nature: Sadness reminds us that we have reason to be sad, to put it briefly.

How to fight depression in the New Year?

Psychotherapy has proven to be an effective way to combat depression once its symptoms have started to manifest themselves, and to avoid relapses when a depressive crisis has already been left behind. The tools used by psychologists are varied and adapted to the characteristics of each patient, but in all of them there is something in common: the adoption of new behavioural habits and new mental frameworks from which to interpret reality in a constructive way is encouraged.

At Psicomaster we have a highly trained team with years of professional experience helping people with depression and other mood disorders. If you are interested in visiting our centre in Madrid, you can find us at Calle de O’Donnell nº 32 (in the area of El Retiro), or access our contact details by clicking here.

Bibliographic references:

  • Belloch, A.; Sandín, B. and Ramos, F. (2010). Manual of Psychopathology. Volume I and II. Madrid: McGraw-Hill.
  • Blazer, D. G., Kessler, R. C., McGonagle, K. A. and Swartz, M. S. (1994). The prevalence and distribution of major depression in a national community sample: The National Comorbidity Survey. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 151(7): pp. 979 – 986.
  • Kotov, R.; Gamez, W.; Schmidt, F.; Watson, D., et al. (2010). Linking “big” personality traits to anxiety, depressive, and substance use disorders: a meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin. 136(5): pp. 768-821.