Wendy Ralston, Clinical Manager, Behavioral Health Services, at Trinity Health System, recently appeared on local radio talk show Novotney Now, which is hosted by veteran journalist Steve Novotney who has been a voice in the Ohio Valley for nearly 20 years.
Over the course of an hour, Ralston and Novotney discussed seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression greatly impacted and deepened by the shorter days and longer nights of the fall and winter months.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, SAD impacts people most during the months of January and February. “About 5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD and it typically lasts about 40 percent of the year. It is more common among women than men.”
Symptoms are varied, but can range from a loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite and/or sleep, feelings of worthlessness and guilt, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Here are a few highlights from Steve and Wendy’s discussion. Please note: Quotes have been edited for length and clarity.
- SAD is influenced by a variety of factors, not just your mood.
The change in seasons and lessening of sunlight brings with it a great deal of baggage for our bodies, all of which can play a role in how SAD impacts us.
“You could have hormone imbalances; your serotonin could be out of whack; your circadian rhythm is out of whack with the decrease of sunlight; so your brain is a little wonky. It’s confused, wondering ‘What the heck am I supposed to do?’” Wendy said. “You’re waking up, and your cortisol levels that are supposed to be great in the morning, are higher. You get up, you look out the window, and it’s still dark.”
Sometimes, the brain will respond to this darkness by increasing melatonin, she added, which can induce sleepiness.
“So it’s that vicious cycle of imbalance.”
- The holiday season triggers a lot of stress factors for people.
The holidays are a joyous time for many people, but it can also be a season for melancholy. Being aware of the factors that negatively impact you and could potentially induce the symptoms of SAD is important.
“Individually, recognize that at this time of year, you may start to have some depressive symptoms that kick in,” Wendy said. “You can address these triggers before it gets to that point.”
She added: “Most people recognize that they’re not feeling right, but it’s recognizing the next step, ‘How do I make this better?’”
- Your diet and routine can help offset SAD.
Getting yourself into a routine, Wendy said, can go a long way in offsetting SAD. Going to bed at the same time each night is perhaps the most important part of this routine.
“It’s not even the quantity of hours, it’s the quality of sleep,” she said. “Avoid caffeine before you go to bed and make sure you’re getting Vitamin D in your diet, since you’re not getting it from the sunlight. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke.”
- SAD more than likely accompanies a comorbidity.
Unfortunately, those struggling with long-term health issues are especially vulnerable to SAD.
“If you’re somebody who’s living in chronic pain, you’re more apt to have these symptoms of SAD,” Wendy said. “Any lingering health issue you have will just intensify the onset of SAD.”
- Talk to others about what you’re going through.
“The importance of SAD is to talk about what’s happening and to recognize those red flags,” Wendy said.
Talking to someone you trust is vital since suicide rates are increasing, especially pediatric and adolescent suicides.
“There’s still a stigma attached to saying, ‘Hey! I have a problem. I need to speak to somebody,’ and the bullying that goes along with it. As a result, the issues never get addressed.”
Novotney Now can be heard in the Steubenville/Weirton areas on 100.9 FM and AM1430 WEIR and in the Wheeling area on 100.1 FM and AM1290 WOMP.
You can also stream Novotney Now here: https://us7.maindigitalstream.com/4411/
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please reach out to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
Source: The National Institute of Mental Health