Here we are in the midst of it, shorter days, cloudy skies, bitter, cold weather and by the early evening, it’s already dark outside. If that’s not a recipe for getting a little down, I don’t know what is! But really, does the winter season magnify the symptoms of depression?
In 2011, the Netherlands set out to find out if this was the case by performing a case study on 6,000 people. They analyzed the effects the winter and seasonal changes had on individuals with anxiety, depression, or both anxiety and depression. Interestingly, those with depression showed little to no signs of changes in symptoms. Those with anxiety did experience a change in their symptoms slightly, with increased depressive symptoms. Similarly, the statistic in America is that about 6.7% of Americans who already suffer from depression & anxiety, find that their symptoms get worse during the winter.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
Although that study concluded a small change in symptoms with those already with depression and anxiety, there is a another form of depression that occurs distinctly in the winter called, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD affects roughly 10 million Americans. It is typified by individuals falling into an emotional slump between the months of October through March or April. This disorder affects about 10-20% of the population on a minor level, and an additional 4-6% of the population is affected in a much more severe case of SAD. Most individuals with SAD report at least one relative with substance abuse or a severe depressive disorder, and SAD is more common the further north you live. Lastly, it typically doesn’t show up in individuals younger than 20 years old.
Symptoms of SAD
- Weight gain
- Extreme fatigue
- Getting too much sleep
- Difficulty concentrating
- Withdrawal from friends & family
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Decrease in sexual drive
Treatment for Winter Depression – Have A Game Plan!
- Talk Therapy – this often involves finding a therapist you are comfortable with talking to and they will help you set goals and try to meet them whether it is relational and social goals, exercise etc.
- Hormone melatonin – this will help with restless sleep
- Exercise routine – Making a plan to stick to a small yet doable routine of even 3 activities a week is better than no activity at all. Schedule a walk with a friend, or schedule to meet a friend at a work out class, or walk your dog regularly.
- Light therapy – This may be as simple as getting up early when it gets light and going for a brief walk
- Antidepressant medication – because there are several other natural methods of treatment, this should only be coupled with one of those, if completely necessary, and not taken by itself as the only method to treat SAD.