Fixing the winter blues

Tuesday, February 23, 2016
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By Joshua Smith

Philadelphia financial advisor, James Gibson, said he lives a normal life similar to most 25-year-olds. “I like to go out with friends, I love soccer and working out, and I love spending time with my dog, Apache,” he said.

But according to Gibson, his fulfilling, wholesome life takes a turn for the worse every year around early November. “It all started in high school,” Gibson said. “I started to make up excuses to stay home, but I wasn’t sick.”

This continued into college and his professional life, Gibson said. “I would call out of work often,” he recalled. “I started feeling depressed, and my relationships with family and friends would become affected.”

Gibson stated that the depression reached an all-time high, so he decided that after a decade of emotionally defeating winters, he would to go to a psychologist and get help.

“That is when the doctor diagnosed me with Seasonal Affected Disorder (S.A.D.),” Gibson said.

Gibson is one of the many Americans that deal with the negative effects of S.A.D. According to a 2013 National Institute of Health study, more than 3,000,000 Americans deal with S.A.D. every year. “It is a branch of unipolar disorder, or depression, and typically occurs between the less-lightened months of October through April,” said DCCC professor of psychology, Marc D. Henley.

S.A.D. can be diagnosed by looking for a wide variety of symptoms, Henley said.

Symptoms include irritable or sad mood, low self-worth, lack of interest in things you previously enjoyed, and sometimes suicidal thoughts.

“A lot of the symptoms are very similar- -if not identical–to regular depression,” Henley said. “The only difference is that the symptoms go away once the days become lighter and you can go back outside and enjoy activities.”

Henley said, the first place to start treatment is with good mental health professional such as a psychologist or psychiatrist.

“A mental health professional might suggest to start with psychotherapy,” Henley said. “This way they can get to any reasoning behind the depression and can help manage the symptoms better.”

The first course of treatment will be light therapy, by using light boxes or florescent lights.

“Light therapy can be achieved by encouraging the patient to get up early and put the lights on as they wake up,” Henley said.

“This type of therapy is called: Dawn Simulation.”

Another way to elevate mood and fight symptoms of S.A.D., Henley said, is physical exercise.

“Physical exercise boosts your mood by increasing endorphins,” Henley said, “Which ultimately lowers stress, improves self-esteem, and improves sleep; all which fight depression.”

Henley said, sometimes prescribing the individual anti-depressants can help the situation.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most widely prescribed anti-depressants come from a class of medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

These medications work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain and work best when taken consistently, over a long period of time.

“Anyone experiencing symptoms of S.A.D. or depression should consult a health care professional immediately,” Henley said. “That is the best way to feel better quickly, by catching the illness early.”

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Gibson said, he has since been doing much better with his S.A.D. after seeking the help of a psychologist.

“It does not affect me like it did before,” Gibson added. “I might have a bad day every 10 days or so but nothing like it used to be. It is manageable now.”

According to Gibson his relationships with work, family, and friends are no longer affected by his S.A.D.

Gibson says he now owns a “soft light” to use for light therapy during the dark months of December and January.

However, Gibson says the best thing was talking to a psychologist and has had ” “successful winters” now for two years.

“Get help. Start with talking to friends and family to become more comfortable,” Gibson said.

“Don’t worry about the social stigma of seeing a mental health professional,” Gibson said. “Everything will come together for you once you get the correct help. It did for me”.

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