By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – In Canada, as the days get darker, colder and shorter you more than likely feel the effects of Seasonal Shifts also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder. I started knowing this feeling in my early teens. I would have this sense of hollowness and deep loneliness. Fortunately, I have a very supportive family network that is compassionate and understanding. I know that I’m lucky to have this support but it can be very hard on family at times. In my younger years my mother would get us to play outside and create fun interactive activities.
However, as I get older this feeling seems to intensify. This can be emotionally draining for many of my friends and family but I have been learning to manage it. I know that I have seasonal depression and I really feel the effects of the seasonal shifts. My lows can get pretty bad. There are days when I can’t even get out of bed and I have to remind myself shower. Yes, that’s how bad it can get. Luckily, there are so many amazing things you can do to perk yourself up and strategies available. With time you can live a great life and get it under control.
Here are some tips I gathered from the Canadian Mental Health Association and My Health Alberta. This also has some great background information on those who are not yet aware or have never heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder. I believe that many people suffer from seasonal lows in Indian Country but are just not aware of it. I see it in so many people I come across.
So, here is some information to help you, a friend or family member.
First, what is the technical definition? According to My Health Alberta, “Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that occurs during the same season each year. You may have SAD if you felt depressed during the last two winters but felt much better in spring and summer. Some people may have SAD during the summer months.”
What causes SAD? According to My Health Alberta: “Experts aren’t sure what causes SAD. But they think it may be caused by a lack of sunlight. Lack of light may: Upset your “biological clock,” which controls your sleep-wake pattern and other circadian rhythms; and cause problems with serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood.”
What are the symptoms? According to My Health Alberta: “If you have SAD, you may: Feel sad, grumpy, moody, or anxious. You may lose interest in your usual activities. There are some who will eat more and crave carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta.”
Being tired all the time and yet you sleep almost the entire day away. Some have a very hard time concentrating – normal things you excel at become very hard to manage during this time. It can be exhausting if you put too much on your plate of things to do – let go and rest.”
Symptoms come and go at about the same time each year. Most people with SAD start to have symptoms in September or October and feel better by April or May.”
How is SAD diagnosed? According to My Health Alberta: “It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between SAD and other types of depression because many of the symptoms are the same.
To diagnose SAD, your doctor will ask if:
“You have been depressed during the same season and have gotten better when the seasons changed for at least 2 years in a row.
“You have symptoms that often occur with SAD, such as being very hungry (especially craving carbohydrates), gaining weight, and sleeping more than usual.
“A close relative—a parent, brother, or sister—has had SAD. You may need to have blood tests to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms, such as low thyroid (hypothyroidism).
“Your doctor may also do a mental health assessment to get a better idea of how you feel and how well you are able to think, reason, and remember.”
How is it treated? According to My Health Alberta: Light therapy is the main treatment for SAD. Medicines and counselling may also help. Experts think light therapy works by resetting your biological clock. It helps most people who have SAD, and it’s easy to use.
My Health Alberta states that there are two types of light therapy which are helpful in the treatment of SAD. (I use these lights and they help me).
“Bright light treatment. For this treatment, you place the light box at a certain distance from you on a desk or table. Then you sit in front of it while you read, eat breakfast, or work at a computer.
“Dawn simulation. For this treatment, a dim light goes on in the morning while you sleep, and it gets brighter over time, like a sunrise.
“Talk to your doctor about light therapy, and follow the steps that he or she recommends.
“Light boxes use fluorescent lights that are brighter than indoor lights but not as bright as sunlight. Ultraviolet lights, full-spectrum lights, tanning lamps, and heat lamps should not be used.
“Light therapy is usually prescribed for 30 minutes to 2 hours a day. The amount of time depends on how strong the light is and on whether you are starting out or have been using it for a while.
“You may start to feel better within a week or so after you start light therapy. But you need to stay with it and use it every day until the season changes. If you don’t, your depression could come back.”
Here are some other ways you can improve or maintain your mood this winter According to the Canadian Mental Health Association:
“Let the light in – Get outside during the day if you can, keep your curtains open, and when indoors, spend as much time as you can near the windows. Even if it’s cloudy, getting some daylight can help boost your mood.
“Get physical – Even though hitting the gym might be the last thing you feel like doing, physical activity is always a great tool to help you manage your mental health. Start small and try a lunchtime walk around the block.
“Try to keep a normal sleep schedule – It might feel like your bed is the only one who understands this funk you’re in but over-sleeping can actually worsen the symptoms of the winter blues.”
Battling low moods is no easy feat, and it’s important to be kind to yourself.
Here are some great phone numbers to call if you or a loved one needs support:
Distress Line 780-482-4357 (HELP) The 24-hours Distress Line is available seven days a week. The Distress Line provides confidential, non-judgmental and short-term crisis intervention, emotional support and resources to people in crisis or distress. We also support family, friends and caregivers of people in crisis.
Emergency – 911
Addiction Helpline – 1-866-332-2322
Mental Health Helpline – 1-877-303-2642
Important Phone/Text Numbers
Community Resources – 211 Alberta
Crisis Text Line – Text CONNECT to 741741
Family Violence – Find Supports – 310-1818
Health Link – 811
Income Supports – 1-866-644-5135
Indian Residential School Survivors and Family, IRSSS – 1-866-925-4419
Kids Help Phone – 1-800-668-6868 or text CONNECT to 686868
Local Resources & Support – Crisis Services Canada
MyHealth.Alberta.ca: List of Important Numbers
Physician & Family Support Program – 1-877-767-4637
I hope these tips will help you, your friends or family. Just know that you are not alone. Be kind to one another. Everyone is going through a hard time these past few years. Don’t take things too personal and give each other space to heal, grow and love.