Fall is in full effect and for many the signs of a new season are upon us. Fall brings with it the beautiful reminder that change is natural and inevitable. Whether it be change in life circumstances, change in ideas, or change in mood; fall can serve as a physical reminder that change is occurring. While some of us relish in the colder weather, blanket and sweater temperatures, and the nostalgia of the holidays and comfort foods; others may be dreading the onset of Seasonal Affect Disorder (S.A.D.) that affects many people during the fall and winter months.
S.A.D. is coded by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) as Major Depressive Disorder, recurrent, with Seasonal Pattern.
This diagnosis describes a range of symptoms including:
- Depressed mood
- Loss of interest
- Change in appetite
- Change in sleep
- Feelings of guilt
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Recurrent thoughts of death or self harm
S.A.D. is also marked by a recurrent onset of symptoms linked to the change in season and temperature*. Many people experiencing S.A.D. may find themselves no longer experiencing symptoms of depression during the spring and summer months and then seeing those symptoms appear or increase as fall and winter begin approaching. S.A.D. can be a frustrating and confusing experience. When many people begin celebrating, experiencing an increase in depressive symptoms can feel isolating and lonely. Learn to recognize what a depressive episode feels and looks like for you and make sure to reach out for support.
While depression can trick us into feeling as if we are the only ones experiencing these feelings, know you are not alone and many people face similar challenges with their mood as the seasons change. If you experience thoughts of suicide or self-harm, please reach out to the mental health hotline by calling “988”.
Here are 4 tips on managing depressive symptoms during the fall and winter months:
1) Spend time with friends and/or family: One of the symptoms of depression is isolation from your support systems. Research has shown that systems of support positively impact mental health recovery**. It is important to stay connected to the people you trust and have positive relationships with.
2) Get that Vitamin D: Research has shown that groups with vitamin D deficiencies have a higher prevalence of mood disorders***. Consider taking a nice walk during daylight hours (where you can also follow our tips for mindfulness while walking.) For some, taking a vitamin D supplement, eating vitamin D rich foods, or spending time under a UV light can also help with the symptoms of S.A.D.
3) Reach out to a therapist: If you have observed a pattern of depressive symptoms during the fall and winter months, reach out to a therapist and get on a therapy schedule before those symptoms increase. Creating a routine while symptoms are not as prevalent makes it easier to continue that routine when symptoms increase.
4) Reach out to your doctor: If you find yourself continuing to experience depressive symptoms that are affecting your daily living activities, consider talking to your doctor about the possibility of using an antidepressant during the months that you experience the symptoms the most often.
If you find yourself feeling symptoms of Seasonal Affect Disorder and would like to speak to one of our licensed professional counselors, we are always here for you. Schedule an appointment here.
* American Psychiatric Association. (2022). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed-Revised.).
**Harandi TF, Taghinasab MM, Nayeri TD. The correlation of social support with mental health: A meta-analysis. Electron Physician. 2017 Sep 25;9(9):5212-5222. doi: 10.19082/5212. PMID: 29038699; PMCID: PMC5633215.
***Penckofer S, Kouba J, Byrn M, Estwing Ferrans C. Vitamin D and depression: where is all the sunshine? Issues Ment Health Nurs. 2010 Jun;31(6):385-93. doi: 10.3109/01612840903437657. PMID: 20450340; PMCID: PMC2908269.