What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The days are getting shorter, temperatures are cooling down, and we all seem to know and feel that winter is just around the corner. When I drive to work in the morning, it’s much, much darker now than it was; driving home in the evening, there’s still some light, but I can see it changing. November 4th, Daylight Savings Time ends and we will “fall back”. I lived in Arizona for 18 years. In Arizona they do not “spring ahead” in the spring, nor “fall back” in the fall. Needless to say, changing all the clocks and getting used to the darker days takes some getting used to. One of the frequent complaints to mental-health providers is an increase in depression during these darker months. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) seems to increase in months where there is less light, and can look like other types of depression.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports that symptoms for SAD are basically the same as for any other form of depression:
- Significant changes in appetite – either eating too much or too little
- The need for increased sleep
- Lack of energy
- Lack of ability to concentrate
- Sluggish movements
- Social withdrawal
- Increased irritability or overall unhappiness
The cause for concern here is that SAD, while it is seasonal in nature, can, in fact, become a longer term depressive disorder if not addressed. If you sense that you are experiencing any of these symptoms above, it would be a good idea to speak with your health-care provider. Because there’s no way to test for depression, it may be quite beneficial to write some of your symptoms down. Paying attention to your symptoms, writing them down, and talking these symptoms over with your provider can help determine if, in fact, it is a depression of any kind. This helps your provider know how to assess what medicines, if any, might benefit you.
If you are prescribed medicine, talk therapy might also be recommended. Talk therapy along with proper medication can be extremely beneficial when dealing with depression, anxiety, or other forms of mental illness. But there are things you can do at home, on your own, to help the medicine and therapy work even better for you. For example, two of our very own here at the Bergan Mercy Clinic, Mat Balcetis, LIMHP, and Laura DeJong, one of our support staff members, teamed up to produce a card we offer to our patients regarding how to continue taking good care of themselves once they leave our clinic. Some of the self-care options they came up with are:
- Listening to music
- Setting healthy boundaries (learning to say “no”)
- Keeping a journal
The U.S. National Library of Medicine adds to this list with:
- Practicing good sleep habits
- Taking your medicine as prescribed
- Getting enough sleep
- Eating a healthy diet
- Avoiding alcohol (alcohol can make us more depressed)
It’s also important to avoid illegal drugs – this is important at all times, not just when we’re depressed.
Another option, however, for some patients is light therapy. Light therapy is a special, bright light that seems to produce the same effect as the sun. There are patients diagnosed with SAD who do very well using one of these lamps first thing in the morning. Research indicates that people start to feel an improvement in their SAD within about a month.
One of the most important things, I believe, about having any type of mental-health concern is knowing that there is help. Please talk with your provider or schedule an appointment if you have any of the symptoms mentioned above.
As always, take care of yourself.