Doc talks about what to look out for with seasonal depression

Nov 30, 2021, 4:27 PM
mental health...
(Adobe Stock Photo)
(Adobe Stock Photo)

SALT LAKE CITY — For many Utahns, shorter daylight hours mean the return of seasonal depression. But you don’t have to suffer without help. 

Seasonal depression or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, and women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with it than men, according to Boston University Today.

Americans recently set their clocks back an hour as we transition every year from late fall to winter and with it, the days become shorter with less sunlight. 

Daylight recedes but seasonal depression grows

Dr. Rachel Weir of the Huntsman Mental Health Institute talked about the warning signs of seasonal depression on KSL NewsRadio’s Dave & Dujanovic. Host Debbie Dujanovic said she has suffered from SAD over the years, so the discussion is personal for her. On the other hand, Dave Noriega has never suffered from seasonal depression because, he said, he looks forward to winter skiing.

“Simple tasks become monumental,” Debbie said. “[Sufferers] don’t even feel like leaving the house. Their hair looks a little unkempt. This was me 10-11 years ago, not feeling like I really cared that much about how I looked.”

Dr. Weir said a big trigger for SAD is the loss of daylight hours.

“Is it a physical thing or is it just kind of mentally we think, ‘Oh, man, my day is already over?'” Dave asked. 

“It’s definitely physical. But you know, we’re not really sure why certain people are affected and others aren’t,” Dr. Weir said.

Finding light in the darkness

She added when she does assessments for depression, she asks if the patient’s mood worsens in the fall and winter. Weir said lightboxes can help mimic sunlight and improve a depressed person’s mood.

“So that kind of shows that there’s a very real physiologic nature to seasonal mood problems,” she said.

Debbie said when she was suffering seasonal depression she may have been mistaken for someone who is just lazy.

“Like for example, I had to have my husband drive me to the grocery store. . . . How can we make sure we’re not confusing or calling somebody lazy when they’re actually suffering from depression?” she asked.

Dr. Weir said when someone goes through a sudden change, it’s likely depression or a mental health issue and not that the person is suddenly lazy or doesn’t care.

How to help? Start by listening

Dave asked how we can help loved ones, family and friends who may be struggling with seasonal depression.

Weir said it can be difficult but start by having a conversation about perhaps seeing a doctor or finding treatment.

“Sometimes having that loved one just be there to kind of encourage you or hold you accountable can be really helpful,” she said.

Weir added that depressed people can be stuck in a cycle of doing less and less as their mood worsens.

“If you can start to schedule just even one or two things a week. And then have someone close with you kind of hold you accountable like, ‘Hey, did you do that like we talked about.’ That can be really helpful. But it’s not helpful to be overly positive, like, ‘Why don’t you love Christmastime? It’s filled with so much joy,’ but just try to be there and listen and encourage,” Weir said.

Dave and Debbie both agreed that talking (and more talking) about mental health helps erode the stigma surrounding it because after all mental health is health.

“The more we talked about it, the more we address it and be honest about it, I think that really helps the conversations that we’ve got to have,” he said.

Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts should call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. Users can find the show on the KSL NewsRadio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.  

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Doc talks about what to look out for with seasonal depression