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Holidays happy for some, but cause depression for others

Dec. 27, 2013 @ 08:09 PM

The holidays are a time for families and loved ones to spend time together and appreciate one another's good company. The holiday season is filled with happiness, joy and gratitude for friends and family members. Some of us love the cold weather and winter activities like sledding, ice skating and curling up in front of the warm fireplace or hanging out under a fluffy warm blanket with a cup of hot chocolate.

Others can't wait for it to be over and for the spring to come and bring longer days so the warmth of the sun will bring them back to life.

As the holidays are busily underway, it is easy to forget that there are people among us who are not having such a good time. Especially someone reminded every holiday season about loved ones no longer here, someone grieving over the recent loss of loved ones, people who are affected by the number of hours of daylight and who suffer from seasonal depression and people who are alone and lonely during the holidays.

"Seasonal affective disorder" is the clinical name for what is also described as "winter depression," "winter blues" or "seasonal depression." Although less common, seasonal affective disorder can occur during the summer months as well. Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that corresponds to seasonal changes in the amount of daylight hours. The shortest day of the year with the least amount of daylight is Dec. 21. It's also called the winter solstice. It is the day of the year when the sun is at its lowest, most southerly point on the horizon.

People who suffer from seasonal affective disorder feel normal and not depressed during other times of the year and experience a worsening of their depression during the winter season. Seasonal affective disorder can be complicated by bad weather when the sun does not come out for days or it is too frigid outside to receive direct sunlight.

Seasonal affective depression rates vary by state. For example, in sunny Florida, the rate of seasonal depression affects 1.4 percent of the total population while in New Hampshire, the rate of seasonal depression is about 9.7 percent (as reported by US National Library of Medicine, see www.nlm.nimh.nih.gov for additional information). Studies show that the higher the latitude, the more common seasonal affective disorders will be.

Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder vary by individual. Everyone does not have the same symptoms and everyone does not experience the same level of intensity or severity of symptoms. Some of the common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include feeling sad, feeling anxious or feeling empty inside. It is common to experience feelings of hopelessness and thoughts like "I will never feel better" or "There is nothing I can do about it until Spring when it passes."

Feeling guilty, worthless or helpless is also common. Some experience increased irritability or restlessness. Seasonal affective disorder affects sleep -- some have difficulty sleeping and others have problems with oversleeping. Most people with seasonal affective disorder experience a loss of interest or pleasure in the activities they used to enjoy. Difficulty concentrating or remembering or thinking and difficulty with making decisions is another symptom. Changes in weight and appetite may also occur.

The single most dangerous symptom is thinking about death or suicide. For some, seasonal affective disorder will be so severe that death or suicide seems like it is the only way to find relief.

For people who think or talk about ending their life, getting professional help urgently is the most important first step. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the US and it is entirely preventable (see www.nlm.nih.gov).

People turn to suicide when they feel hopeless and helpless. Suicide is a process whereby thoughts are the first stage. There are morbid thoughts about being better off dead or thoughts about the funeral.

When seasonal affective disorder or depression continues, those thoughts can develop into plans. In the planning stage, the person is considering different suicide methods and their access to the tools needed for different methods for ending their life.

The final stage of suicide is the development of intent. Having thought about suicide and developed a plan, the intent stage is the stage where the final details are decided (like leaving a note or not, taking out a life insurance policy and deciding the other exact details of when and how they will end their life).

Thoughts, plans and then intent is the suicidal process. People at highest risk of death by suicide are white men, even though women and teens report more suicide attempts than white men (also according to www.nlm.nih.gov). When someone talks about suicide, take it very seriously. Urge them to go to the local hospital emergency room or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Seasonal affective disorder responds very well to treatment. Light therapy helps about half of all people who experience seasonal affective disorder. There are special lights designed to imitate the rays of the sun that may help. For others, antidepressant medications help, especially when combined with professional therapy to identify triggers, challenge and change patterns of thinking that lead to changes in behaviors and develop plans for coping with stress and the season.

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective professional mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex (304-586-0670). Offices in Hurricane are called "Hopewell" and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road (304-757-8475). The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment and mental health problems like grief, depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. Both offices are accepting new clients and scheduling appointments. Walk-ins are also welcome Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. at the Winfield location.

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.



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