If you notice periods of depression that seem to accompany seasonal changes during the year, you may suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
This condition is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression – usually in late fall and winter, when the number of hours of sun is decreased. Natural melatonin levels drop and less sun exposure decreases the brain chemical serotonin, which affects mood.
Symptoms of SAD usually begin in October or November and subside in March or April. Regardless of the time of onset, most patients don’t feel fully back to normal until early May.
The usual characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving, weight gain, decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts lack of interest in normal activities and social withdrawal.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is not uncommon and is very treatable. If your depressive symptoms are severe enough to significantly affect your daily living, consult a mental health professional qualified to treat SAD. He or she can help find the most appropriate treatment.
Some suggested non-medical interventions include keeping track of your daily symptoms and their severity; recognizing current life stressors; and avoiding alcohol as it is a central nervous system depressant which will compound depressive symptoms. Getting outside during the day, especially within two hours of getting up in the morning, has been found to relieve some depressive symptoms. Daily exercise has repeatedly been proven to decrease mild to moderate depressive symptoms.
A suicide prevention lifeline is manned around the clock by professionals trained in mental health crises.
The number to call is 1-800-273-8255. For additional information, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org. If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek immediate care, either through your doctor or through the nearest hospital emergency department.
Submitted by Sherry Lowe, Marketing Coordinator for the Minnesota Valley Health Center in Le Sueur.