Taking On the New Year's Blues
Dec. 30, 1999 (Atlanta) -- Optimism about the new year? Make that anxiety
for some people -- especially this year. Behind the planned fireworks,
champagne, and cruises to catch midnight, mental health professionals say the
year 2000 is already taking a psychological toll on some people -- regardless
whether they have big plans for Dec. 31.
"This has been going on for a year," says Lucia Martin, LCSW,
supervisor of the Health Psychology Center at Northside Hospital in Atlanta.
"I have clients coming in to my office, saying that they feel an
intensification of the sense we're coming to the close of another year. They're
asking, 'What have I done with my life? What is the meaning of my life? Where
do I go from here?'"
The historic change in calendar is even hitting an official of the National
Mental Health Association. "When I was in grade school, the idea of being
in the year 2000 seemed farfetched," says Geneva Riley, LCSW, director of
Primary Care Outreach for the organization. "It makes you feel very
Call it Millennium Melancholia -- a magnified version of what psychologists
say happens at the close of every year. "New Year's Eve is supposed to be
an exciting, exhilirating experience of letting out the old and thinking of the
new. In reality, that's not how the world is. Things don't just go away,"
says William Pollack, PhD, assistant clinical professor of psychology at
Harvard Medical School in Boston."[So] the chance of having these kinds of
New Year's Eve blues is high -- and the chance of having them on the millennium
is even higher."
At the root of those blues is the psychological whipping boy of the holiday
season -- the expectations game, which is in absolute overdrive in anticipation
of this year's blow-out. Add to that the specific, and rather unusual focus of
New Year's Eve: ourselves. "New Year's Eve is more centered around
mortality and success in life," than conflicts with family, Pollack says.
Adds Martin, "It's a time for introspection and reflection -- for people
who aren't drunk."
In other words, it can be a particularly difficult time for those whose
lives aren't perfect, which would cover an awful lot of people. "Society
gives us the message that we should be happy, enjoying ourselves, and taking
stock," on New Year's Eve, Pollack says. "Our response is, I'm not
happy, I'm taking stock, and I'm miserable.And we tend to think everyone else
The feelings that result -- hopelessness, helplessness, and isolation --
provide an excellent medium for depression to grow, Pollack says, and that
could be especially true this year. "The millennium has been, shall we say,
the most hyped experience of this century. ... It's bringing on an even heavier
burden of stock-taking ... what our lives have been up to this point and what