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Taking On the New Year's Blues

WebMD Health News

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 aged."

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 is happy."

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 lies ahead."

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