by Tom Karel, MA, CAAC
Sigh… it is that time of year once again: the after the holidays winter blues that we who live in Michigan have come to expect. For many of us, about 90 percent, we notice a mild decrease in energy and increase in lethargy that mildly interferes with our everyday functioning. However, for about 10 percent of us, the “winter blues” can become moderate to severe in its effect. The problem is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
This illness has been well studied and documented over the last 30 years. What has been determined is that those of us in the northern hemisphere during the cloudy, gray, gloomy fall and winter months have significant increases in depression related symptoms. If you reside in Florida during these winter months, your chances of experiencing SAD are 1.4 percent; however if you live in New York, your chances increase to 12.5 percent.
Symptoms of this illness include: feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, depressed/irritable mood, loss of interest and pleasure in things usually enjoyed, increased social isolation, fatigue/loss of energy, increased appetite, especially for carbohydrates, and weight gain.
The tendency for most is to ignore these symptoms. We say, “I’ll just tough it out,” in the hope that it will improve. If left untreated, these symptoms usually do not automatically improve; in fact, they can worsen to include thoughts of death and suicide.
If you have had thoughts of death, harming yourself or suicide: Do Not Wait to Get Help. If these thoughts have occurred, you also think that, “my family and friends are better off without me.” However, let me reassure you: your family and friends are better off with you getting well.
In getting help for yourself, it is important to talk about what’s going on so you can receive the support and encouragement of your family and friends. Reaching out beyond family and friends is also important:
- Your clergy or parish nurse can provide comfort, guidance, prayer and hope.
- A family physician can provide an initial diagnosis, recommend treatment, medication and/or light therapy, and a referral to a mental health professional if necessary.
- Mental health professionals provide counseling in order to help you better understand your specific symptoms, identify problem areas and how to combat this illness.
Additionally, it is essential to fight, rather than feed, this illness. For example, if you don’t feel like exercising, don’t wait until you feel like it. For most of us, that won’t happen; instead make plans with a friend to exercise together.
With help, there is hope. We at Pine Rest wish you all a Healthy and Happy New Year!
This article first appeared in the January 27, 2013 edition of the Grand Rapids Press.
Tom Karel, MA, CAAC, is a limited licensed psychologist and certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor at the Pine Rest Campus Clinic. He has worked at Pine Rest since 2000. Pine Rest offers a continuum of behavioral health services; for more information visit www.pinerest.org or call 1-866-852-4001.