Seasonal Affective Disorder: How to tell that you might have it and ways you can try helping yourself through the season
RAPID CITY, S.D. – While the month of December is filled with holidays, cheers and seeing family, it might be a time of year that you feel down and maybe you aren’t sure why. Seasonal Affective Disorder, which some probably know as seasonal depression, could be something that is affecting you.
“A lot of things happen this season, even outside of seasonal affective disorder with people who have experienced loss. It can be a sad time of year. It can be a joyous time of year,” Aimee Janvrin, associate executive officer and clinical director of Behavior Management Systems, said. “Any time you’re noticing one of your loved ones that are feeling more down, they’re not doing things they normally do. It’s really important to find out why. Check in with them. Ask them how they’re feeling. It’s really important to assess, to make sure they’re safe and to support them in getting the help they need.”
Seasonal depression vs general depression:
Seasonal depression is a clinical diagnosis which isn’t like general depression. Seasonal depression comes with the seasons while general depression is year-round.
Most times, seasonal depression occurs over the winter — mainly because we are exposed to less light and are usually inside more often.
Signs of seasonal depression:
Here are a few things to keep an eye out for in both yourself and anyone you are close to:
- Lack of energy
- Inability to focus
- Too much eating or not eating enough
- Craving high carb foods
- Weight gain
- Being tired and sleeping a lot
- Feeling down or feel depressed
- Could be more moody
- Loss of interest in activities that are normally enjoyed
Like most mental illnesses, it’s different from person to person. So, symptoms could be mild or severe.
Tips to help with seasonal depression:
- This can be a walk outside, a game or even a trip to a gym.
- Get sun exposure
- Even if it’s cold, you can go outside or even just sitting in your living room with the curtains open helps.
- Spend time with friends or family
- You should make sure not to isolate yourself, even if it’s a trip to a café or the mall.
- Use simulators or bright light therapy
- Bright light therapy is exposing yourself to artificial light to keep your circadian rhythm on schedule.
- Dawn simulators are almost like alarm clocks that wake you up with light that gradually increases in intensity, similar to the sun.
- Get enough sleep
- Pay attention to your sleep patterns and get good rest as well as enough sleep.
If these tips don’t help, you should reach out to a professional, licensed therapist or counselor.
How therapy helps:
- Licensed professionals will help assess you to determine what’s going on.
- Can teach new skills for managing your depression.
- Therapists help people understand what’s going on and ways they can work through it.
- They might even prescribe medications and antidepressants if necessary.
“Counseling can be very helpful to learn ways to deal with the depression. Generally depression, and clinical depression as well, even seasonal depression, medications can be very, very helpful. So antidepressants are very cheap. They’re very effective,” Duane Kavanaugh, director of counseling of South Dakota School of Mines and Technology, said.
Why it’s important to keep an eye on people you care about:
With most situations, especially because depression comes on slowly, it isn’t usually noticed by the individual who is feeling down. It’s noticed from family and friends because they realize if someone is off.
Kavanaugh says that depression and mental illnesses kill people.
“The biggest problem with mental health issues in general is people don’t want to accept that it’s an issue. I can just force my way through it. I can force myself to be better. And that’s generally not the case. It’s just like any other medical disorder. If you have diabetes, you treat your diabetes. If you have depression, you should treat your depression.”
Other sources to use:
There are a number of websites that you can use if you have more questions or concerns including:
- National Institute of Mental Health
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
- American Psychological Association
- American Counseling Association
“The biggest thing I’d say is don’t be afraid to seek out people. Not just well, you know, I’ll be better tomorrow and then six weeks later, they’re still not better. So just like if you go to the doctor for any other illness, that’s what mental health is. It’s a health issue.”