Kathi Whitten, LCSW - Individual, Couple & Family Psychotherapy
Holidays  tend to bring friends and family together, and this is often followed by a bit of time when one can spend a little time reading a good book, enjoying quiet evenings sitting before a fire, or just relaxing a little.  Still, at this time of year, just about everybody is experiencing a little cabin fever, starting to think about how nice it will be to see leaves on the trees again, flowers blooming, and nicer weather.

But some people experience more than restlessness with the shortened days and lack of outdoor exercise. For some, there comes a sense of depression, an increased need to sleep, appetite changes and a great loss of energy. There may be a sense of hopelessness, trouble with concentration and isolation. These people could be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.), a form of depression that typically lifts when winter moves into spring and the days grow longer again.

While all depressions have some symptoms in common, there are also differences. There are likewise differences in treatment approaches. If you have noticed this pattern of winter changes which are more intense than the sort of stress one might expect after several months of winter, it would be wise to consult a professional to decide if you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

It helps if you’ve noticed whether this takes place each year at about the same time and tends to disappear as the weather gets warmer and daylight increases.  There are various things that can be done to help with S.A.D., but because there are several forms of depression it would be best to consult a professional who can make the best diagnosis.

S.A.D. is thought to be related to light. Therefore, a particular sort of “lightbox” might be prescribed (a broad spectrum lamp without harmful UV rays). Alternately, treatment might be cognitive therapy or medication. Outdoor exercise (like skiing) can also be helpful. However, it is important to check with someone who is experienced in being able to differentiate the several kinds of depression, as treatment methods differ and it is not always the case that depression in winter is S.A.D.

S.A.D. is not something “just in your mind,” nor is it just a reaction to holiday stress.  It is a true medical condition that affects many people, mostly during the winter months, and brings great distress to those who suffer from it, but help is available.

Copyright Kathi Whitten 2009