Seasonal Depression: It’s More than the “Winter Blues”
Undiagnosed, untreated, unrecognized Seasonal Affective Disorder could be making the tough times tougher
As if it weren’t sufficiently challenging to face the holiday season after the loss of a loved one, changing seasons can create, contribute to or deepen feelings of depression in 20 percent of people (Mayo Clinic, 2017).
In the winter months, shorter days mean less daylight, while colder temperatures mean limited time spent outdoors. The resulting drop in exposure to vitamin D (which our bodies absorb from sunlight) can contribute to a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
According to the Mayo Clinic, reduced exposure to vitamin D can lower the amount of serotonin (a chemical that strongly influences mood) produced by the brain. As a result, many people feel depressed, tired or otherwise “different” in the winter months.
For those struggling with the death of a loved one, SAD can intensify the feelings of depression they’re already experiencing as a normal side effect of grief. It may also negatively affect those in caretaker roles or struggling with illness themselves.
In addition to the drop in serotonin caused by lack of exposure to sunlight, SAD can be intensified by environmental factors. For example, being cooped up in the house on a dreary day or unable to get outside and exercise limits participation in activities that might bring relief or joy during warmer weather.
Luckily, there are several things you can do to alleviate SAD. Taking a vitamin D supplement, spending more time outside (despite the cold!), buying a light therapy lamp or exercising indoors are all potential ways to alleviate some effects of SAD. For those with more severe SAD, your doctor may decide that antidepressant medications are an option.
Dealing with grief, illness or the stress of caretaking is emotionally draining enough; there’s no reason why you should have to suffer through additional depression as a result of changing seasons! Seasonal Affective Disorder is an extremely common condition that affects up to one in five people, with five percent or more experiencing severe changes in mood or behavior. Luckily, the prevalence of SAD in the population means that doctors, psychiatrists and therapists are well-versed in its treatment and prevention.
If you have noticed a change in your mood, well-being or energy that coincides with the changing seasons, you might be experiencing SAD. If you feel that you might be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, be sure to speak with your doctor.