The chill of winter can cause some people to become irritable. They just don’t like the cold weather. Then there are others who become depressed each year, beginning in the late fall and continuing throughout the winter. You may have heard this referred to as the “winter blues” or Seasonal Affective Disorder. But the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition) actually classifies it as Major Depressive Disorder with a seasonal pattern. It is believed that the lack of sunlight in winter months contributes to this depressive episode, which is alleviated at the onset of spring. If you believe you are a sufferer, here are the facts that you need to know about Seasonal Depression.
Seasonal Depression usually sets in during the autumn months and continues through the winter. Those who are at risk of developing this form of depression are women, young people, and those living in higher latitudes and colder climates. Individuals with this diagnosis need to have experienced a major depressive episode at the same time period each year for two years in a row.
Since the colder weather forces many indoors, that means there are less daylight hours and sun exposure in the fall and winter months. Humans need sun exposure to remain healthy and in order to produce Vitamin D, which regulates our absorption of calcium and protects against disease. Exposure to the sun also produces the uplifting hormone serotonin. But in the winter months, the levels of this hormone drops in seasonal depression sufferers. This decrease in serotonin is thought to contribute to feelings of depression, fatigue, trouble concentrating, and increased appetite.
Treatment for seasonal depression may include an antidepressant as well as behavioral interventions to address your change in mood. But some doctors also recommend phototherapy, a light that helps treat the patient and tricks the brain into producing less melatonin, a natural hormone that causes you to feel sluggish and sleepy. Phototherapy has been observed to be effective in some cases of seasonal depression. Whether phototherapy will be effective for you will depend on if you have any other pre-existing mental health issue.
There also are some natural ways that you can help boost your mood if you suffer from seasonal depression. One way is to exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Exercise produces mood-boosting endorphins, which helps to shake off some of those winter blues. Another method is to make sure that you try to get outside every day, at least for a little while. Even on cloudy days, your skin can soak up some of the sun’s rays and produce the serotonin that you need. Finally, if you feel you are suffering from seasonal depression, visit a mental health professional. Together you and a professional can find a regimen that works for you to help keep your Seasonal Depression in check.
If you need assistance dealing with seasonal depression, contact Hidden Stream Counseling at 919-307-3805.