A mental health worker in Steinbach says we’re entering a time of year when many more people are starting to show signs of depression.
Cheryl Dick is a mental health clinician with Southern Health’s Mental Health and Addictions Program. She says seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression associated with the changing of the seasons.
According to Dyck, the US affects about 15 percent of Canadians. Most of them will report only a mild case, but two to three percent will deal with a serious case of US. Dick notes that this occurs more often in women than in men and is most often seen in young adults.
Dyck says there are many reasons why this time of year can make you feel depressed. She notes that it doesn’t help that the days are getting shorter and colder. Plus, with the run-up to the Christmas season, Dyke says there’s added pressure on everyone and the expectation that you have to be “happier, better and brighter.”
Dick says most people who suffer from SAD begin to notice symptoms around this time in the fall, which last until spring or summer. However, she notes, although less often, the opposite can also happen when people start experiencing feelings of depression in the spring or early summer and only begin to feel better in the fall or winter.
In addition, Dick explains that shorter days and less daylight can cause serotonin to drop, leading to symptoms of depression. Also, she says the change in season can throw off the balance of the body’s melatonin levels, which play a role in sleep patterns and mood.
There are signs you can look for that can help you recognize if you may be struggling with US. Dick says signs can include persistent low mood and loss of pleasure or interest in normal daily activities. Other signs include feelings of irritability and feelings of hopelessness, guilt or low self-esteem. Other warning signs may include crying a lot, feeling stressed or anxious, having a decreased sex drive, and becoming less social. Dick says if you’re less active than normal, feel lethargic and sleepy during the day, and have a hard time getting out of bed in the morning, these could also be signs. Other indicators include difficulty concentrating and increased appetite, especially with cravings for carbohydrates.
Dick would also like to offer a few suggestions on how to keep the US at bay this fall. She notes that standard treatment may include light therapy, talking to a counselor or taking medication. However, she says there are plenty of other ways to lift your spirits.
One example she gives is developing personal resilience. This is a combination of taking care of your emotional well-being, including good physical health, good relationships, a social network, and even envisioning a future that includes a purpose or intention for what gives your life meaning. Dick also encourages people to spend time with happy friends.
“It sounds funny, but moods are contagious,” she says. “So surround yourself with positive people and notice again how your mood can correlate with who you’re around.”
Dick also encourages healthy eating and giving your body nutrients that provide healthy energy. She also says it’s important to celebrate when things go right. Instead of focusing on what went wrong, she says you should instead focus on the things that go well in a day. Dick says this can be as simple as being glad you didn’t get a flat tire on the way to work. And she says you should end the day by noting three things that went well, no matter how small they may seem.
Other tips include physical activity, which Dick says is a great mood stabilizer and contributes to better health. If regular exercise isn’t your thing, Dick says you can start by going for a brisk walk just to get some fresh air. While being outside can make a big difference, Dick says just getting some sun, even when you’re inside your home, can help.
“Sit in a sunny spot, open the curtains and try to get some natural light as early as possible in the morning,” adds Dyke.
Since this is the cloudier time of year, Dick encourages you to take advantage of the sunny days when you get them.
Another tip she has is to make a list of things that bring you joy. This list can include very simple ideas such as using your favorite mug, lighting a candle, listening to music, reading or knitting.
If you get to a point where you’re feeling particularly low and nothing seems to bring you happiness, Dyke encourages you to try to remember what used to create joy and then add a little of that into your day.
For anyone who needs help, Dick says their mental health and addictions line is 1-888-310-4593, while their crisis number is 1-888-617-7715. You can also drop in on Thursdays at Steinbach’s at 450 Main St. from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., where you can speak with a clinician for a one-time appointment. This service is available to persons aged 16 and over.
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