Seasonal depression is deeply real and very isolating. It is common, affecting more than 3 million people in the US per year. For those experiencing it, it’s important to remember that it does not define you or make you less human. There is nothing wrong with you and your feelings are valid.
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts please call:
FirstLink’s Suicide Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Anytime, day or night.
Or text the National Crisis Line: Text “HELLO” to 741741
The following text is taken directly from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org). We are not experts on this topic and only wish to provide awareness, definition, and resources so that others may seek help if they desire to do so. This is not intended to be an end all be all discussion on the topic and really only begins to touch on the subject. For those seeking professional help we suggest using the FirstLink 2-1-1 Directory of Community Resources to explore therapy and counseling services available in our area.
Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern (formerly known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD) is characterized by recurrent episodes of depression in late fall and winter, alternating with periods of normal mood the rest of the year.
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health were the first to suggest this condition was a response to decreased light and experimented with the use of bright light to address the symptoms. Scientists have identified that the neurotransmitter serotonin may not be working optimally in many people who experience this disorder.
The prevalence of this condition appears to vary with latitude, age and sex:
Prevalence increases among people living in higher/northern latitudes.
Younger persons are at higher risk.
Women are more likely than men to experience this condition.
This disorder’s most common presentation is of atypical depression. With classic depression, people tend to lose weight and sleep less. This condition is the kind of atypical depression often seen in bipolar disorder—people tend to gain weight and sleep more.
Although not everyone experiences all the following symptoms, the classic characteristics of Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern include:
Hypersomnia (or oversleeping)
Many people may experience other symptoms as well, including:
Decreased sexual interest
Lack of interest in usual activities and decreased socialization
The key to an accurate diagnosis of this condition is recognizing its pattern. Symptoms usually begin in October/November and subside in March/April. Some people begin to experience a “slump” as early as August, while others remain well until January. Regardless of the time of onset, most people don’t feel fully “back to normal” until early May.
For a diagnosis to be made, this pattern of onset and remission must have occurred during at least a two-year period, without the occurrence of any non-seasonal episodes during that same period.
This means you will not receive this diagnosis the first time you experience symptoms. If you believe you may have a seasonal depressive pattern, it’s important to pay attention to the pattern. Track your symptoms, noting when they begin and when they subside. This self-awareness can help. Mental health professionals will ask you about your observations and also your family history since mood disorders tend to run in families.
As with most depressive disorders, the best treatment includes a combination of antidepressant medications, cognitive behavioral therapy and exercise. Unlike other depressive disorders, this condition can also be treated with light therapy. Light therapy consists of regular, daily exposure to a “light box,” which artificially simulates high-intensity sunlight. Be aware that ordinary indoor light is not sufficient to treat this condition
Some primary care doctors have experience treating this disorder. Remember that this condition is a subset of major depression. If your primary care doctor prescribes you an antidepressant, orders you a light box and sends you to a social worker—and you have trouble the following year—consider seeking consultation from a psychiatrist. Treatment planning needs to match the severity of the condition for each individual.
If you know you have a seasonal pattern, ask yourself “How can I plan for this?” Because this disorder has a specific pattern, those who experience it can prepare for its arrival in the following ways, for example:
Exercise more toward the end of summer
Get into therapy around September
Start your lightbox in October
Plan a vacation to a sunny spot in January
Some people may require treatment only during the time of the year in which they experience symptoms, or they may need treatment that begins before symptoms are most severe. Others may choose year-round treatment.
Managing Seasonal Depression…
there’s an app for that!
Most of the following suggestions have in-app purchases available for premium content, and/or have ads, but overall we’ve found these useful at the basic-free level.
– Taking more breaks/naps: Nap Time (Android), Sleep Time (Apple)
– Moving your body in comforting ways: Yoga | Down Dog
For more rigorous exercise try: Body Project on YouTube
– Breathing Exercises & Meditation: Sanvello
Also try: Waking Up: Guided Meditation
– Give yourself affirmations: My Affirmations: Live Positive (Android)
– Journaling: Reflection.app: Guided Daily Diary & Journal
– Making a new favorite playlist: TIDAL
– Reading a new book: Libby, by OverDrive (requires library card)
– Many folks are turning to teletherapy; if you’ve used an app-based therapy service we’d love to hear your thoughts!
There are many different techniques for the activities suggested above, many of which don’t require a mobile device. Personally, nothing beats actually writing something down on paper and having a physical thing to hold and contemplate when journaling. What works for one person might not work for another. Hang in there and keep trying until you find something that sticks. Certain resources (such as therapy) aren’t financially feasible for many of us so it is important to utilize tools that are freely available to add to our toolboxes. These suggestions aren’t just for those with seasonal depression, and can be helpful year round to manage and improve one’s mental wellness.