Amid flu season and the approach of winter, many individuals are focused on maintaining their physical health—but keeping up with one’s mental and emotional health can be just as important.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, appropriate abbreviated as SAD, affects around 3 million people each year. It is a type of depression that presents itself around the same time every year, beginning in the fall and continuing into winter.
“It’s what we would call a transient mood disorder,” said LaKita Carter, vice president of the board of directors for the Black Mental Health Alliance, a Baltimore-based organization which seeks to raise awareness about mental health needs in the Black community.
“For some people it occurs regularly, and as the seasons change they get increasingly depressed,” Carter said. “As summer ends the days get shorter, the sun is no longer out, and it gets colder. The holidays are coming as well, which brings on new stressors and as a result people feel more down then they typically do. Some people may have a bout of depression just once, but with many of the people who suffer from SAD, it’s a pretty consistent occurrence happening every year around the same time.”
Symptoms of SAD typically begin to occur in the late fall and continue through the winter, usually subsiding in the spring or summer.
“Some of the things to look for are just general symptoms of depression: low energy, feeling sluggish, difficulty focusing, suicidal thoughts, a general feeling of hopelessness and changes in your appetite or sleep pattern,” Carter said. “With this disorder, these symptoms would start around the onset of fall as opposed to major depression disorder which could pop up at any time during the year.”
Many confuse symptoms of major depression and SAD with being “down in the dumps” or just having the “winter blues,” but sadness and depression differ in many important ways.
“Everyone is sad at some point, sadness is a typical human emotion,” Carter said. “However depression is not a typical emotion—it is a disease. If you’re sad more often than not and sad in the wake of positive things or regardless of the circumstances, that’s how you know there is a problem. When your sadness is getting in the way or your everyday activities and day-to-day life, that’s when you should reach out.”
Carter said those suffering from SAD should recognize and understand their condition, and seek professional assistance before the colder months begin and depression takes hold. She also encourages sufferers to try to maintain their social and family connections rather than pull away from sources of support, and to keep a regular, healthy sleep pattern.
If someone you know is suffering from SAD or major depression, there are a few things you can do to support them.
“Take the word ‘crazy’ out of your vocabulary—you don’t want there to have any shame associated with your loved one getting help,” Carter said. “Offer to accompany or drive your friend or loved one to an appointment and talk to them in order to take some of the shame and embarrassment out of seeking help, because it is the healthiest thing anyone could do.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from SAD or any other mental illness, the Black Mental Health Alliance provides support services, education, and depression screenings to help those in need. They are located on 16 West 25th Street in Baltimore and can be reached at 410-338-2642 or at www.mha.swdesignclient.com.
If you are in immediate crisis or contemplating suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.