If you are feeling blue there is hope for you
With the winter cold moving in and last month being Depression Awareness Month it’s a fitting time to talk about the so-called “winter blues” many people experience as the days get shorter, as well as a more severe type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
“Winter blues is a general term, not a medical diagnosis. It’s fairly common, and it’s more mild than serious. It usually clears up on its own in a fairly short amount of time,” says Dr. Matthew Rudorfer, a mental health expert at National Institutes of Health (NIH) in a January 2013 article, “Beat the Winter Blues,” from News in Health, available at newsinhealth.nih.gov. Stressful holiday preparations, memories of departed loved ones, and other specific concerns at this time of year can cause these temporary feelings of sadness.
“SAD, though, is different. It’s a well-defined clinical diagnosis that’s related to the shortening of daylight hours,” says Rudorfer. “It interferes with daily functioning over a significant period of time.” SAD has a pattern, appearing each year with the change of seasons and then going away in a few months or more when more natural sunlight fills each day.
In wintery New England, where our winters are long, SAD is more common than in southern climes.
According to NIH, common symptoms of SAD may include:
• Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
• Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
• Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
• Irritability, restlessness
• Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
• Fatigue and decreased energy
• Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
• Changes in weight
• Thoughts of death or suicide
There are treatments to help people suffering from SAD to get through the fall and winter. “Light therapy is meant to replace the missing daylight hours with an artificial substitute,” says Rudorfer. When this treatment alone is not effective, a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help, and antidepressant drugs may also be prescribed.
So if you’re feeling blue, there’s hope for you. Reach out to your healthcare provider to discuss treatment options.