The winter months can be a dreary time of year. After all the fall festivities and the joy and warmth of the holiday season, the shorter days and longer nights of snow and rain can wear on a person. Colder climates are tough for everyone, in body as well as in mind.
It all can nonetheless be an isolative feeling, despite its pervasive nature and the severity with which it can manifest itself. Sometimes the post-holiday slump can be something more. Sometimes, it can be seasonal depression.
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, is a psychiatric disorder, common to the winter months (but not unknown to spring and summer), defined by the American Psychiatric Association as a form of clinical depression.
“Seasonal affective disorder* is a form of depression also known as SAD, seasonal depression or winter depression. People with SAD experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression. The symptoms usually occur during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight and usually improve with the arrival of spring. The most difficult months for people with SAD in the U.S. tend to be January and February. While it is much less common, some people experience SAD in the summer.” – Psychiatry.org
Depression as is remains a tricky condition for many people in the modern world — easy to invalidate and brush off as a phase or a case of the blues; this is all the more so the case with seasonal depression. In this, it can be difficult to ask for help with what may be seen by your peers to be a made-up condition.
However, the effects of seasonal depression are hard to ignore and can make life difficult for anyone who is affected by it. Symptoms include, but are not limited to, a significant loss of enjoyment in otherwise pleasant activities, overall lack of energy and fatigue, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, reduced appetite and disrupted sleep cycles, and even suicidal thoughts and attempts at self-harm.
It is so clearly important to treat seasonal depression, quickly and effectively. What is seen by some to be merely a slump can lead to difficult, dangerous, and possibly life-threatening situations, otherwise rather easily avoided with the treatment available.
Seasonal depression in this way is a severe, but treatable condition, with many different options available to folks who deal with it. However, being that it is a psychiatric condition, and therefore highly personal and different from person to person, it is vital to specialize your treatment and explore what works for you and what doesn’t.
The amount of options can indeed be overwhelming at first, but with an action plan in place, and a supportive friend or two, treatment can prove to be not only simple, but also massively beneficial.
The first step in every instance [and if you’re financially able to] is to consult with a medical professional — talk to your primary care physician regarding any potential symptoms. The process may be scary at first, full of personal questions and potentially involving blood tests to make sure everything is in check, but wellness is in this way a body and mind venture, so it’s important to see them through.
From there, your physician may recommend more specific therapy. Among these is the emerging field of phototherapy, or light therapy, in which patients sit with a sunlamp to supplement the all-important vitamin D-bearing sunlight they’re missing — a possible contributing factor or else cause of seasonal depression. Phototherapy can be as easy as purchasing a sunlamp for the home, with a price point starting at about $30.
While sunlight is important, there are still more options to treat seasonal depression, should phototherapy prove ineffective. Your doctor in this case may recommend seeking more involved psychiatric help. This could mean seeing a talk therapist (otherwise known as psychotherapy), for which there are multiple modalities and schools of thoughts, which again can prove overwhelming.
‘Talk therapy, also known as psychotherapy, is based on the core idea that talking about the things that are bothering you can help clarify them and put them in perspective. Some talk therapists follow a specific school of thought, such as cognitive theory or behaviorism. Others use a more eclectic approach, drawing techniques and principles from several different theories.” – Lisa Fritscher, Psychology graduate
With that said, the effectiveness of talk therapy is well-documented and is well-worth researching. Again, therapies are highly personal, and its important that patients be honest with their feelings with their respective therapists to get the most out of their treatment for seasonal depression.
Pharmaceutical options exist as well. Don’t be surprised if your doctor recommends an NDRI [a type of antidepressant] medication such as bupropion (you might have heard of it under more popular names Wellbutrin and Zyban) if your symptoms persist through the season. While there are popular aversions to psychiatric medicine, what comes first is one’s health in these matters, and medicine has proven effective for severe cases of seasonal depression.
All in all, the entire process can border on distressing, but no more distressing than the condition itself. It’s important to listen to yourself in this manner — know the signs and feel your feelings; and know, more than anything else, that help is available if you need it.