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Dealing with Seasonal Depression
- Depression is different from feeling sad or unhappy, and is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.
- During any one year period, nearly 21 million American adults can suffer from depressive illness, with women experiencing depression about twice as often as men.
- WIthout treatment, depression can last weeks, months or years, but most people respond well to medication, therapy or a combination of the two.
- Anyone wishing for death or having recurring thoughts of death or suicide should seek treatment immediately.
- Most people with clinical depression who seek treatment improve, usually within weeks.
An estimated 10 to 20 percent of the population suffers from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition that is typically characterized by increased sleepiness, irritability, fatigue, diminished concentration and other symptoms. While some suffer from a spring-onset type of SAD, others suffer from a fall or winter onset.
What causes depression?
There are two types of depression, with different causes:
- A depression caused by brain disease in which people lose all or part of their ability to feel pleasures from pleasurable things. Since life’s pleasures are gone, these individuals lose interest in activities and feel sad or numb all the time.
- A depression caused by reaction to a significant loss or involvement in a bad situation. The brain may still function normally in its ability to sense pleasures, so when the depressed individual is distracted from their circumstances, they may be able to laugh and enjoy things. But when they're reminded of the event they're upset about, sadness begins building and affects them again.
What are the most common symptoms of depression?
Depression is characterized by a persistent and pervasive loss of ability to feel pleasures. A person with major depression will not experience pleasures from pleasurable stimuli, such as spending time with friends.
Depressed individuals will often have their sleeping patterns disturbed, diminished concentration and memory, impaired judgement, and/or a waning appetite and sex drive. Thoughts of death, wishes for death and thoughts of suicide are unfortunately all too common, and are a sign that immediate attention and treatment is needed.
Why is depression so common during the holidays?
Holidays are a time when expectations are generally high and stress increases due to expectations of meaningful connections with loved ones and the exchange of “perfect” individualized gifts that will be cherished forever. Further, they come at a time of year when the days are short and sunlight is in limited supply, which can trigger an episode in many people vulnerable to depression.
How can people beat depression during the holidays?
There are four ways people can battle depression over the holidays:
- Get some sunlight and exercise. Fifteen to 30 minutes of sunlight, at best in the early morning, will go a long way to alleviating the winter blahs, and who doesn’t enjoy a brisk romp down a snowy lane after dinner?
- Adjust your expectations. Don’t let visions of perfection spoil everything. Learn that most things can be good enough – gifts, food, company, etc.
- Watch your health. Get enough sleep and eat and drink in moderation. Two glasses of wine are plenty for the evening – one if you’ve already had the eggnog. Pick one cookie on the plate and savor it, instead of eating them all.
- If the depressed mood is serious, leading to isolation, crying spells, not sleeping or eating, hopelessness and thoughts of death or suicide, get help immediately.
Meditation Rivals Antidepressants
Could meditation offer depression sufferers a side effect-free method of managing their disease? Just 30 minutes of daily meditation may be as effective as antidepressants in improving some symptoms of depression and anxiety, according to a review of 47 completed clinical trials.
Linking Genetic Variations to Depression
Abnormal "wiring" during early brain development can be traced to depression and other mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Further study of these early errors could yield more effective prevention or treatment strategies.
Next-Generation Brain Imaging
Scientists are hoping to unlock the secrets of depression by creating a revolutionary way of capturing chemical signatures in the brain in real time.
Find a Depression Specialist
The Mood Disorders Center provides a range of specialized clinical services to patients with mood disorders, including depression and bipolar disorder.