Seasonal Affective Disorder is commonly known as winter depression. While the winter months, in particular, can be challenging for those who are dealing with S.A.D., the disorder is not necessarily specific to the winter months.
Theresa Girardin is Supervisor of the Recovery & Residential Services Program for Mental Health & Addiction Services in Weyburn for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. She said diagnosing S.A.D. requires meeting specific criteria.
“A person doesn’t have any episodes of depression in any other season, sometimes the person experiences more seasons of depression than seasons without depression over the person’s lifetime,” she explained. “It's not necessarily just winter. It can occur in the fall and for some people sometimes in the spring. What we also find is people who experience S.A.D. don't have any episodes of depression in any other season."
While S.A.D. does occur more frequently in climates with severe and long-lasting winters and reduced daylight hours, the difference between general depression and S.A.D. is the person will experience a normal mood the rest of the time.
Giarardin explained the symptoms of S.A.D.
“Sadness, low self-esteem, no joy from living, guilt, thoughts about self-harm, reduced concentration, indecisiveness, physical aches, slowed down movement, too much or too little sleep, constipation and/or diarrhea and too much or not enough of an appetite,” she said.
She explained there are some self-care ways to combat sad, including socializing and practicing stress management.
Exercising and getting outdoors is also a proven treatment. Taking a walk, even on a cold or cloudy day, can help alleviate the symptoms of S.A.D.
“Making your environment sunnier and brighter, open the blinds, sit close to bright windows while at home or at work,” she said. “If possible, if they can afford it, taking a trip to a sunny destination is beneficial.”
When it comes to self-medicating, Girardin advises refraining from using alcohol, cannabis or illegal drugs.
She said Light Therapy is another proven effective treatment for S.A.D.
“It's recommended that you purchase a light that has at least 10,000 lux. Anything below that, research indicates that it’s not as effective,” she explained. “In light therapy, the light mimics natural outdoors light and appears to cause a change in brain chemicals linked to our mood, so that’s why it’s helpful.”
Those with severe symptoms can benefit from anti-depressant medications, as well as group therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.
“There’s individual or group counselling, or talk therapy, which can help identify and change negative thoughts and behaviours. And it’s also beneficial to learn healthy ways to cope and manage stress,” she said.
Girardin said it’s important for those suffering to remember there is help available- they do not need to suffer alone. If you suspect that you or someone you know is dealing with S.A.D, you can contact your Family Physician, or contact Saskatchewan Health Authority Mental Health & Addiction Services at 1-800-261-7689. You can also contact Mental Health & Addiction services directly at 306-842-8665 Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
She also reminds that the Healthline, at 8-1-1, is available 24 hours as a day, as is your nearest emergency room.
She added the University of Regina offers an ICBT (Internet Cognitive Behavior Therapy) program. Call 1-306-337-3331 to sign up for online therapy provided over the internet.