The Mental Health Benefits of Celebrating Thanksgiving
11/10/2015
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12/09/2015

It’s Time to Get S.A.D.

This time of year brings joy to so many people. With the holidays approaching we have a little more pep in our step due to exciting family parties, celebrations with friends, holiday music and lights. However, for some it isn’t very joyful between the months of September to April, especially in the Chicagoland area. A disorder begins to form called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which affects half a million people each year and these numbers peak between November, December, and January.

 

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

As its’ name states it is a type of depression that has an onset based on the seasons with symptoms generally beginning in the Fall and lasting until Spring (Mayo Clinic, 2014).

Symptoms of general Depression include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness/worthlessness
  • Having low energy
  • Feeling depressed most of the day
  • Appetite changes
  • Lack of interest in activities one used to enjoy
  • Problems sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal/homicidal ideations

 Seasonal Affective Disorder may include other symptoms:

  • Irritability
  • Low energy/fatigue
  • Problems in relationships
  • Over sleeping
  • Appetite changes (generally over eating)
  • Weight gain

 

Causes for Seasonal Affective Disorder:

There are several reasons and theories for why SAD affects so many individuals this time of year. What some consider the strongest reason is the change in the weather combined with daylight savings time. Chicagoland gets dreary around October and we have more gray skies and cool days, sometimes rain and maybe even a mixture of snow. Since the sun does not make an appearance as often we begin to lack vitamin D, a vitamin that can strongly impact our mood. Mental health professionals in the Chicago area see a boom in clientele during SAD seasons, as Chicagoan have some of the worst rates of depression in the country (Sweeny, 2014). Studies have shown that the prevalence of SAD decreases when individuals live closer to the equator.

Mental Health America (2015)  describes how sunlight affects us in two different ways:

“SAD may be an effect of this seasonal light variation in humans.  As seasons change, there is a shift in our “biological internal clocks” or circadian rhythm, due partly to these changes in sunlight patterns.  This can cause our biological clocks to be out of “step” with our daily schedules. Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, has been linked to SAD.  This hormone, which may cause symptoms of depression, is produced at increased levels in the dark.  Therefore, when the days are shorter and darker the production of this hormone increases.”

How do I treat Seasonal Affective Disorder?

If you experience any of the symptoms described it is encouraged to seek help from a doctor or a mental health professional, as treatment can be applied quickly. Different types of treatment include:

  • Light Therapy– Special light boxes or lamps provide artificial sunlight while indoors. Since this light mimics sunlight it affects our brain to influence our moods in a positive way. Light boxes or light lamps come in all sizes, shapes, and prices and can be purchased in stores or online.
  • Psychotherapy– A mental health professional can help you cope with the shift in moods as well as offer a set of skills to work through these negative emotions and behaviors.
  • Medication– If symptoms are severe individuals may want to seek help from their medical professional for medication. A doctor can prescribe an anti-depressant to help tackle the chemicals in the brain that influence depression and other negative moods.
  • Change in Lifestyle– Compare your lifestyle during the Fall/Winter to your lifestyle during Spring/Summer. We tend to be more active during the Summer months, so try and take that behavior into the other seasons as well. Open your windows to let sunlight in, go for walks, participate in outdoor activities, get out of the house more, etc. Exercise is important as well. Try to be active by implanting a workout routine or take a yoga class. Try to make these seasons as positive as the others!
  • Natural Remedies– Vitamins can play an important role in our moods. If trouble sleeping is a side affect as well as something that is really affecting your mood, Melatonin before bed can give you that boost of sleepiness you may need. Vitamins such as St. John’s Wort and Omega-3’s help our moods, as well as vitamin D. If you have any questions about vitamins and which you should take consult your doctor or pharmacist.

 

Prevention: 

If you have experienced SAD in previous years then it is important to implement prevention strategies as the season approaches.   Around the August and September months it is important to remind yourself to keep up your healthy routines: Stay active, keep up a healthy diet, make sure to take vitamins if you need them, and check in with your health professionals. Remember that SAD is temporary and we can control our symptoms if we take action.

 

 

 

 

Mayo Clinic. (2014, September 12).  Diseases and Conditions: Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/seasonal-affective-disorder/basics/prevention/con-20021047

Mental Health America. 2015. Seasonal Affective Disorder. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/conditions/sad

Sweeny, Bridgid. (2014, April 10). Chicago Business. Who Had a Great Winter? Mental Health Professionals. Retrieved from http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20140410/NEWS07/140409708/who-had-a-great-winter-mental-health-professionals