MURRAY – Many people look forward to the winter months and the happiness that the holidays bring, but this is not always the case. According to Murray State University associate professor of psychology, Dr. Michael Bordieri, 5% of the world’s population suffers from seasonal depression.
Bordieri explained that seasonal depression was once thought to be a separate disorder from major depression disorder called seasonal affective disorder, but recent studies have shown the opposite.
“Really, it’s just a way of describing a pattern of depressive episodes that appear in winter and sort of term in spring and summer,” Bordieri said.
Murray State University assistant professor of psychology Dr. Gage Jordan explained that anyone can experience seasonal depression, but it usually affects women more than men. He said it’s more common in people between the ages of 18 and 30. People living in more northern latitudes, such as Canada or Alaska, are at greater risk because these areas have fewer days during the winter months.
Bordieri said that while this is true, it is not the same across the world. He said, for example, that people in Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden do not exhibit this pattern.
Bordieri said the warning signs to look for in people are the same warning signs as depression in general. These signs could be a person stating that they are feeling down and depressed, major changes in sleep or appetite, feeling hopeless and withdrawing from the world.
“A great one to look for is someone who loses interest in activities,” Bordieri said. “Maybe cancel plans or not enjoy the same hobbies or activities as before.”
“For a lot of people, the ‘winter blues‘ is common,” Jordan said. “However, seasonal depression is different from these winter blues because the symptoms are more bothersome or distressing. It is therefore important to keep track of what one feels during these winter months.
Bordieri said people should also look for someone who has expressed suicidal thoughts or harmed others. He said there are always resources available for help which are available at all times. One resource that anyone can use is the National Suicide Prevention Hotline which is 1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-273-8255.
“One thing we see, especially in younger people, isn’t (everyone’s) always a big call,” Bordieri said. “So the Crisis Text Line is another resource available at 741741. And if someone texted that Crisis Line then it can initiate a text hold. ”
While seasonal depression can make someone feel hopeless, it’s important to remember not to give up. There are many treatments available to help those who are in pain. Jordan explained that treatments can include medication, psychotherapy, exercise, maintaining good sleep and eating habits, and sun exposure. An example of psychotherapy is cognitive behavioral therapy, also known as CBT. This type of therapy causes patients to change their thinking and ask themselves what caused the negative thoughts they are having. Another type of therapy Jordan gave was light therapy.
“(Light therapy) attempts to expose people with seasonal depression to bright light every day to help compensate for the lack of natural sunlight during the winter months,” Jordan said. “Light therapy has been shown to be effective in clinical trials for the treatment of seasonal depression, but should only be undertaken in consultation with a mental health professional.”
Bordieri said that for those who need help it is important to increase our awareness. He also said it’s important to ask how someone is doing and take the time to listen, especially during the holidays. He explained that the holidays can be a very stressful time for people and it can be helpful for them to know that someone is listening to them.
“Sometimes I think we fear asking someone about depression will make it worse,” Bordieri said. “But research suggests that when relatives, friends or family reach out and offer support, it’s often a vital first step in connecting someone with professional help. I think it’s important that we all get to have this conversation.
Bordieri said the key to helping someone, or even yourself, is taking the first step and getting in touch with a professional.