VALDOSTA -- The holidays aren't happy for everyone.

Many struggle with the specter of depression during the holidays, particularly as the media bombards people with nonstop images of unbridled joy and merriment that often do not match the person's situation.

Those separated from loved ones, suffering from the financial crunch of the holidays or otherwise ill or isolated can feel uniquely distanced from a time of year centered around family, success and happiness.

Carol Aldrich-George, director of clinical services at Greenleaf Center in Valdosta, said depression is a serious problem year-round, but is especially difficult during the holidays.

"It's a time when expectations are higher than reality," she said. "It's a time when we miss people we've lost through the years. There is a lot of increased depression in the holidays. It's a time when people get real lonely."

Most instances of holiday-induced depression are manageable, however, and Aldrich-George said there are many ways to guard against the doldrums.

"First of all, avoid drinking too much. It only creates more problems and never solves any," she said. "Try to be around people you care about. Don't isolate yourself. If you're feeling bad, reach out and call somebody you care about."

Another tactic is to embrace the spirit of the season and try to help someone else who might be suffering from depression or in need of another sort of good deed.

"Try and find somebody who you think needs some help and reach out to them," said Aldrich-George. "That in turn can help you deal with your problem. That can be a real good prescription for getting through the holidays."

She said the simple act of helping someone in a time of trouble can provide a lift for those struggling.

Aldrich-George said the number of those coping with depression is roughly equivalent to years past, but notes a ripple-effect from the events of Sept. 11 has been felt.

"We haven't had any more (cases) than in past years," she said. "Certainly the events of Sept. 11 have weighed heavily on people in many ways. It has affected people in different ways. It has brought some people closer together, but has made others feel more alone. The holidays can be difficult for people."

A certain impact of the terrorist attacks has been on families of military personnel. Holiday callups have split families, and while most are used to some separation, it can be a struggle for one parent to shoulder the holiday load, and difficult for the other to be far away, sometimes without a reliable means of communication.

Those struggling with holiday depression are urged to call the Greenleaf helpline at 1-800-247-2747 where they can talk to someone about their problems, receive ideas for how to cope and find a sympathetic ear.

To contact reporter Bill Roberts, please call 244-3400, ext. 245.

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