Thursday, December 22, 2005
Bring joy at the Christmas season – you'll find it's good for your health

By Dr. Anthony Policastro
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital

Happy Saturnalia. One may wonder what that means. During the days of the Roman Empire, the Saturnalia was the celebration that marked the beginning of winter. It was a weeklong celebration. Businesses were closed. Schools were closed. Gifts were exchanged. There was food aplenty. One of the hallmarks of the celebration was wishing good health to everyone. Actually, the word wassail means "to your health." The week ended on Dec. 25. In the year 325 under the Holy Roman Empire December 25 became Christmas. The celebrations continued, but for a different reason. The celebrating kept some of the old things. Over the years it added many others. In the ensuing 1780 years, Christmas traditions have become a way of life for many people at this time of year. The goal of those traditions is to make this a happy time of year. The positive impact on the mental health of everyone is a good thing. Christmas is a time for families. We see many family members. Some of them we have not seen for a long time. Some we see frequently already. However, at Christmas, we spend more time with them. We spend time exchanging gifts with them. We spend more time at the dinner table with them. We spend time talking about the events since we last saw them. This all creates a sense of warmth and well-being. Christmas is a time for sharing happiness with others who may not be family members. We do this through Christmas cards. We do this through gifts. We do this through well wishes for the joyous season. This puts everyone in a good mood for the season. It, too, creates a positive impact. I have repeated a Christmas article several years in the past about random acts of kindness. If you send a Christmas card to people you do not know, it will uplift their spirits. If you give a gift to individuals who do not expect it, it will make them happier. If you pay a toll for the car behind you, it will pleasantly surprise them. These all add to the joy of the season. Sharing this joy is important. As the days grow shorter, it tends to depress people. The medical term is "seasonal affective disorder." We can combat this in others by sharing the happiness. For those individuals who feel lonely, this time of the year is associated with an increased rate of suicides. You never know when one of your acts might have prevented that from happening. We all have a role to play at Christmas time. That role is to make those around us happier. It is good for their mental health. It is good for our mental health. That has been the way even before December 25 was chosen as the date to celebrate the Nativity. Even with people trying to secularize the event that has been celebrated for almost 1800 years on Dec. 25, the fact remains that it is a time for supporting those around us and making them happier during the holiday. We have replaced the Saturnalia feast with the Christmas holiday. However, we should never replace the joy that we create at this time of year.

Dr. Anthony Policastro is medical director at Nanticoke Memorial Hospital.

Delaware infant mortality pilot study report published
A pilot of the national Fetal Infant Mortality Review (FIMR) process found that 65 percent of mothers whose infant deaths were reviewed had not recognized signs of pre-term labor. Conducted by Delaware's Division of Public Health (DPH) and Nemours Health and Prevention Service as part of the state's Infant Mortality Task Force, the pilot project investigated 48 infant deaths that occurred in New Castle County during 2003. Statewide, 11,337 births and 107 infant deaths occurred that year. Findings of Delaware's FIMR pilot, and recommended actions, include:
  • Among the 48 infant mortality cases reviewed 65 percent of mothers went into preterm labor. Promote education on pre-term labor. Signs of preterm labor should be addressed at first prenatal visit.
  • Sixty three percent of mothers interviewed had inadequate or inappropriate weight gain. Promote nutrition counseling and gain support for it from insurers.
  • Among the mothers interviewed, 54 percent had a chronic medical condition or were smokers. Increase awareness and implement programs promoting women's health, especially targeting those at risk for poor health and pregnancy outcomes.