Feeling SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)

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I grew up in sunny South Africa, where the only emotional change that the majority experienced with regard to seasons, was relief when it got a little cooler. For me, my first winter in the Netherlands, which I have recently survived, was harder on me than I thought it would be. I was shocked to discover how much impact it had on my mental state. This got me thinking that winter must be a dangerous time, both for people who suffer from depression all year, and those who don’t as well. Of course, some people can cope better than others in the cold. Many will not experience any emotional changes, but it is easy to understand why the freezing, dark days of winter so profoundly affect the population. It is also important to know when it is serious! You should never just brush off any changes you may feel to your mental health in winter and never do this with regards to your friends and family either.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) is a serious condition which affects about 25% of the general population. The majority of sufferers from SAD experience symptoms or worsening of symptoms in winter. That makes this time of year the time when everyone begins to feel better right? Actually this is not the case for a lot of people. The largest peak in suicide rates occurs in spring. Spring affects all of us as much as winter does, and for many people, spring is actually the time of year that makes them depressed, according to BBC news among other sources . There are a lot of reasons for this, ranging from the fact that pollen increases agitation to the fact that spring increases motivation, which for depression sufferers is not always a good thing and could increase the risk of suicide. It is very important to learn how we can treat or prevent seasonal depression in our own lives, and so here are a few ways to cope with the winter (or summer) blues.

1.      Have a plan

If you start to experience symptoms of depression, have a plan of action that will make you feel better, such as reaching out to your family.

2.      Run from your problems (literally)

Exercise can treat depression as well as prescription medications in some cases, a great preventative measure for feeling sad.

3.      Stay close to your friends and family

It’s easy when you’re feeling depressed to distance yourself from others, but loneliness will only increase symptoms. You should also stay close to those you care about in the case that they may experience depression.

As should always be the case in the subject of mental illnesses, the most important thing is to recognize symptoms in yourself and in others and to act on this in a way that will improve your mental state or that of those around you. The winter blues and the summer blues are not something that should be taken lightly, especially in a city where many people (like me) have never experienced some of the seasonal changes that happen here. The point is that we can’t forget that seasonal depression does not stop affecting people in spring and depression in general does not necessarily decrease either. Always look out for yourself and your loved ones.

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