It seems appropriate with all the intense weather patterns we are experiencing nationally that I should at least mention a form of depression that occurs in winter: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. It might explain why during really difficult weather or any winter weather, a family member may experience periods of depression or act in ways he/she ordinarily would not during other times in the calendar year.
What is SAD?
In order to explain SAD I will rely on the Northern County Psychiatric Associates in Baltimore Maryland who describe this syndrome very well. Below is a description of SAD from their website.
Throughout the centuries, poets have described a sense of sadness, loss and lethargy which can accompany the shortening days of fall and winter. Many cultures and religions have winter festivals associated with candles or fire. Many of us notice tiredness, a bit of weight gain, difficulty getting out of bed and bouts of “the blues” as fall turns to winter.
However some people experience an exaggerated form of these symptoms. Their depression and lack of energy become debilitating. Work and relationships suffer. This condition, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) may affect over 10 million Americans while the milder, “Winter Blues” may affect a larger number of individuals.
The typical symptoms of SAD include depression, lack of energy, increased need for sleep, a craving for sweets and weight gain. Symptoms begin in the fall, peak in the winter and usually resolve in the spring. Some individuals experience great bursts of energy and creativity in the spring or early summer. Susceptible individuals who work in buildings without windows may experience SAD-type symptoms at any time of year.
Some people with SAD have mild or occasionally severe periods of mania during the spring or summer. If the symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. If they are problematic, then a mood stabilizer such as Lithium might be considered. There is a smaller group of individuals who suffer from summer depression.
SAD is recognized in the DSM-IV (The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual) as a subtype of major depressive episode. The classic major depression involves decreased appetite, decreased sleep, and often, poor appetite and weight loss. It has long been recognized that some depressed individuals had “atypical depression” with increased sleep and appetite along with decreased energy. Some, but not all of these atypical individuals also had a seasonal pattern.
Some people with winter depression also have mild or occasionally severe manic mood swings in the spring and summer. If these episodes are severe, the individual might be diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (formerly called manic depressive illness).
There are treatments for SAD, some of which are more expensive and some rather simple. Exercise, light therapy, counseling and prescribed medication are all options for individuals experiencing SAD. I think it is important to realize that working towards normalcy in our schedules in spite of the weather is extremely helpful and that daily exercise can be a vital part of dealing with this situation.
Recognize impact on family members
As drastic as the weather has been, I think it is important to be aware of its potential impact on parents, children, teenagers, family members and friends. It is another way we can care for those around us who may be experiencing these symptoms, and to offer suggestions as to how we can all best endure extreme weather.
Don’t forget, spring is coming!
Gerry Vassar, President/CEO, Lakeside Educational Network