‘Tis the Season for Seasonal Depression
Depression, especially this time of year, can be a real concern for many.
It can feel like there is a mismatch.
Your internal feelings may be dark and gloomy; whereas, the external world is seemingly jolly and twinkling during this holiday season time.
You may find yourself at a festive holiday party or walking through a decorated, buzzing mall. From your perspective, everyone and everything seems so happy and filled with the holiday spirit. It is such a stark contrast to your deeply sad thoughts and feelings.
Read on to learn more about the topic of seasonal depression, treatment approaches, and when to seek professional support.
What Is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. SAD usually begins in the fall and continues into the winter months. SAD is commonly known as the “winter blues.”
People with SAD may:
- feel said, irritable, and cry frequently
- be very tired
- have difficulty concentrating
- sleep more or less than usual
- lack energy (have decreased activity levels)
- be less likely to attend social situations
- crave carbohydrates (bread, pasta, etc.) and sweets
- gain weight due to increased appetite or lose weight due to decreased appetite (Melrose, 2015).
Who Commonly Has Seasonal Depression?
SAD occurs four times more often in women than in men and typically begins between the age of 18 and 30 years old (Melrose, 2015; Rosenthal).
What Are Some Treatment Approaches?
The following are various treatment approaches used to better manage the effects of Seasonal Depression.
Please keep in mind that it is always best to consult with mental health and medical professionals to determine the best treatment plan for you to meet your unique needs.
During the wintertime, people with SAD often have a difficult time managing stress. Do whatever you can to minimize your stress; for example, avoid overcommitting to a lot of activities and take breaks while working. Other beneficial ways to reduce stress include practicing meditation and yoga (Rosenthal).
Light therapy involves bringing more light into your environment during dark days such as wintertime or when spending time in windowless offices or basement apartments.
Light therapy can be done naturally by going outdoors on a dark day, especially during the morning. You can also bring more indoor light into your home or office with the use of regular lamps. Specialized devices known as light boxes can be used for light therapy programs (Rosenthal).
A systematic review and meta-analysis determined that low levels of Vitamin D are associated with depression (Melrose, 2015; Anglin et al., 2013). Taking Vitamin D before winter darkness begins may help prevent symptoms of depression (Melrose, 2015; Kerr et al., 2015). Of course, you should consult with a medical professional before taking Vitamin D or any other supplement.
SAD, like other types of depression, is thought to be associated with a lack of brain serotonin activity (Melrose, 2015). Serotonin is one of the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) that carries signals between neurons (brain nerve cells) (Mayo Clinic Staff).
Antidepressants such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) may be helpful for those with SAD (Melrose, 2015). SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressants; SSRIs can ease symptoms of moderate to severe depression, are relatively safe, and typically cause fewer side effects than other types of antidepressants (Mayo Clinic Staff).
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
One type of evidence-based (supported by research) treatment for depression is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a brief, goal-focused treatment approach that considers the relationship between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors (Fenn & Byrne, 2013). CBT is an effective treatment for SAD (Schreier, 2021).
When To Seek Professional Support?
A person experiencing symptoms of depression, whether mild, moderate, or severe, could benefit from the compassionate and knowledgeable support of a mental health professional.
It is vital to seek mental health services when depression is impacting your ability to function well at home, school, or work.
Mental health services such as counseling and medication may help you to cope better. There is research that indicates the effectiveness of combining both psychotherapy and medication for the treatment of depression. It is best to consult with mental health and medical professionals to determine the best treatment plan for you.
If you or your loved one are in crisis, contact 911 immediately for medical emergencies and 988 for mental health emergencies. For a non-emergency situation, it is best to seek professional mental health care.
If you have a positive relationship with your primary care physician or other physicians, ask them for a referral for mental health services. If you are interested in seeking professional support for your child, discuss your concerns with their pediatrician. It may also be helpful to consult with your insurance provider to determine which mental health services are in-network.
Anglin, R., Samaan, Z., Walter, S., & McDonald, S. (2013). Vitamin D deficiency and depression in adults: Systematic review and meta-analysis. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 202(2), 100-107. https://doi.org/10.1192/bjp.bp.111.106666
Fenn, K., & Byrne, M. (2013). The key principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. InnovAiT, 6(9), 579-585. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1755738012471029
Kerr, D. C., Zava, D. T., Piper, W. T., Saturn, S. R., Frei, B., & Gombart, A. F. (2015). Associations between vitamin D levels and depressive symptoms in healthy young adult women. Psychiatry Research, 227(1), 46-51. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2015.02.016
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2019, September 17). Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/depression/in-depth/ssris/art-20044825
Melrose, S. (2015). Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches. Depression Research and Treatment, 2015. https://doi.org/10.1155/2015/178564
Rosenthal, N. E. (n.d). What is Seasonal Affective Disorder? Answers from the doctor who first described the condition. https://www.normanrosenthal.com/about/research/seasonal-affective-disorder/
Schreier, J (2021, December 8). Seasonal affective disorder: More than feeling sad. Mayo Clinic Health System. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/seasonal-affective-disorder-more
988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. https://988lifeline.org/current-events/the-lifeline-and-988/