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Happy holidays?

PacMed doctor explains how to combat seasonal blues

Are you suffering from winter blues? Photo credit: Mike Greer /

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With the holiday season in full swing, a wondrous flurry of sparkling dazzlement, good tidings and cheer is in the air. Although the chill and frost inspires inner feelings of warmth and coziness for some, it can serve as the catalyst of melancholic hopelessness for others. Seasonal Depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) effects roughly five percent of the United States population, according to Mental Health America. Luckily, Pacific Medical Centers' Psychotherapist Caitlin Cotter, LICSW is here to explain the signs, symptoms, and treatments for SAD -- ensuring everyone is able to have a happy holiday season.

Many people are aware of what general depression is as well as its symptoms. Can you describe the main differences between regular depression and seasonal depression?
SAD is linked to a period of time in the year, typically the winter months due to the decrease in daylight hours, whereas general depression -- also known as major depression -- is not. SAD is simply a subtype of major depression and symptoms can be just as severe as those of major depressive disorder. While some only experience depressive symptoms during a specific seasonal period, there can be overlap between the two diagnoses as well. For example, someone who navigates major depression all year may see a spike in symptoms in the winter months.
What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?
Typical symptoms of SAD include fatigue, lack of interest in activities, changes in appetite (eating more or less), sleep issues (sleeping a lot more or having difficulty sleeping), prolonged sadness or irritability and increased isolation. For some, thoughts of suicide may be present as well.
Are certain folks at a greater risk for developing seasonal depression than others?
Some may be at an increased risk for seasonal depression if they have experienced depression at other times in their life or if they have a family history of depression. Those who live further from the equator may also be at a higher risk.
Many military members are required to travel and even relocate. What advice can you give to active military personnel who travel frequently or need to relocate often to combat seasonal depression?
Relocation on its own can make servicemembers more vulnerable to depression as it disrupts comfortable routines and creates separation from friends and loved ones. If you are relocating, especially if relocating to a place further from the equator during winter months, it can be helpful to plan ahead. Consider prioritizing self-care such as exercising, eating healthy foods and staying connected to those close to you during your transition. Be aware of the symptoms of depression and see your primary care provider or a mental health provider in your area for help. If you already receive treatment, it's always important to connect with necessary providers as soon as you relocate to avoid a lapse in treatment.
What precautions or methods of treatment should people seek if they are diagnosed with seasonal depression?
Regular exercise and occasional therapy can be incredibly useful. Medication or seeing a therapist to develop other coping strategies can be essential for many as well. Often the actions that are most helpful are the hardest to do when someone is depressed, so medications or therapy can help provide the boost needed to get into healthier patterns and start feeling better.

Is there anything else you would like readers to know about this topic?
SAD is common, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. If you are experiencing some winter blues, please consider talking to your care provider for help.

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