4 Simple Ways to Manage Seasonal Depression
Seasonal depression is often trivialised or altogether dismissed as “winter blues”. Because of this, millions of people across the globe today, continue to live undiagnosed and untreated, and suffer in silence. No more!Read on if you or someone you know might be struggling with seasonal depression.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as seasonal depression) aka SAD is a mood disorder. It’s a form of depression that is linked to a particular season (as the name may suggest). The biggest sign of seasonal depression would be feelings of melancholy and hopelessness for reasons unspecified. Most people experience SAD during the winter months, but cases where SAD is triggered by spring-summer season are also known. There are several other symptoms that accompany SAD that make it a serious and debilitating condition to live with.
But that doesn’t stop seasonal depression from being one of the most underdiagnosed conditions across the globe. What makes it even harder to diagnose SAD is the fact that it often co-exists with bipolar disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, alcoholism or eating disorders in patients.
Scientists estimate that SAD occurs up to 4 times more in women than in men…and that people “living farthest from the equator in northern latitudes are most susceptible.” According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, “In the United States, 1% of those who live in Florida and 9% who live in Alaska experience SAD. In Canada, 15% of the population experience winter blues and 2 to 6% experience SAD. In the United Kingdom, 20% experience winter blues and 2% experience SAD.”
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder/seasonal depression:
- Feeling of sadness, nearly every day accompanied by guilt, worthlessness or self-hatred
- Losing interest in day-to-day activities
- Chronic fatigue
- Weight loss or weight gain
- Sudden changes in appetite
- Trouble with concentration
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Dealing with seasonal depression:
There are many ways to fight seasonal depression, most of which are the same as treatment of depression. People with SAD, experience drastic changes in their body with each season. For instance, people with winter SAD have a sudden spurt in melatonin (sleep hormone) production, making them perpetually sleepy and tired during winter months. They also have a natural decline in serotonin, the neurotransmitter responsible for balancing mood. Together, these changes push the circadian rhythm of the body, i.e. the body's internal 24-hour clock, out of whack – further aggravating the symptoms.
- The treatment of SAD often involves light therapy, also called phototherapy. This approach seeks to compensate for diminished sunshine and decreased vitamin D secretion in the body, by using bright artificial light. Since vitamin D plays a vital role in the production of serotonin, Scandinavian countries have light rooms, with full spectrum light, much like sunlight that is also indirect and evenly distributed.
Image source: https://www.consumerreports.org/
2. Antidepressants may be prescribed by your physician to restore normal serotonin activity in the brain. These medications come with their share of side-effects, but are especially crucial in the treatment of patients where symptoms are debilitating.
3. Just as with any other mental illness, treatment for SAD may require psychotherapy or counselling. This is especially useful in helping patients identify negative thought/behaviour patterns, and to work out healthy ways to cope with the condition.
Image source: https://careersinpsychology.org/
How to avoid seasonal depression:
In order to understand if SAD is completely avoidable, we must first look at the risk factors and causes behind it:
- Family history
- History of depression or bipolar disorder
- Increased distance from the sunlight-rich equator
- A disrupted circadian rhythm
- Decrease in levels of serotonin and/or melatonin
- Get 30 minutes of exercise at least 3 days a week.
- Get outdoors whenever possible, even if it’s not sunny. Even a minimum of daylight is enough for your body to make sense of the changing day and night, thereby setting your melatonin production in order.
- Make sure that you continue to consume a nutrient-rich diet, abundant in vitamin D and omega 3 fatty acids. Consult your physician to understand more.
- Never miss an opportunity to spend time with family and friends. No matter how unsocial you feel, truth remains – humans are social animals, and being around loving company has been proven to have a positive impact on mental health.
What you must keep in mind is that seasonal depression, like any mental illness, is often dismissed as “winter blues”. Millions of people across the globe live undiagnosed and untreated, and continue to suffer in silence. The only way to change the status quo is by transforming the current narrative around all mental illnesses at once. Get together with your friends and family and talk about the subject. Talk about feeling blue. Discuss how you once may have had suicidal thoughts at a low point in life and had no one to confide in.
Let’s vow to never let anyone else suffer in silence. One quick way to take a step in the direction is by sharing this article with your friends and family who may live in cold, temperate areas like Alaska, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, etc. Let’s spread the word!
“There is no shame in having a mental disorder. It is the stigma and bias associated with it that we must be ashamed of.”