‘This is the year to talk to someone’: Navigating seasonal affective disorder during the pandemic

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INDIANAPOLIS –The changing of the seasons brings a lot of great things with it: gorgeous fall colors, cooler weather, beautiful snow (hopefully), and some pretty great holidays.

But the final part of the year also brings with it something we don’t talk about enough: seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

According to Mental Health America, each year, roughly 5% of the U.S. population experiences seasonal affective disorder–about 16 million people.

SAD is described as a type of depression related to changes in the season. People can experience mood changes, sleep problems, lethargy, social irritability and eating problems, among other symptoms.

Some of the factors that can trigger SAD include the loss of daylight, the cold weather, even the various stresses that come with the holidays.

This year, mental health experts say you also have to factor in the stressors associated with the pandemic, the recent issues with race, issues with the economy/job losses, and everything else that may have come with 2020.

Experts say with everything that is on people’s plates, it makes it possible that not only more people could feel the effects of SAD, but those that do may feel a bigger impact.

“It could be this year that maybe it’s more than seasonal affective disorder.  And I think that’s why it’s really important to speak with your doctor. A good place to start could be your primary caregiver. Just make an appointment to talk about what’s going on so you can start to figure out, if it’s season affective disorder, is it something else,” said Danielle Henderson, a clinical psychologist with IU Health.

While there isn’t a cure for SAD, there are some things those experiencing it can do that can potentially help. Buying a light therapy box or a dawn simulator which can mimic the sun can have positive effects in some experiencing SAD. So can starting an exercise routine, spending more time outdoors, taking vitamins, or, if necessary, getting prescribed medications.

Henderson says all of those things come second to the most important step.

“This is the year to reach out to somebody. And I understand the stigma of talking about mental health or maybe even going to a mental health professional, but you can start small, talking to a friend or family member and kind of sharing initially what’s going on,” Henderson said. “That’s why we’re here, that’s what we’re trained to do, help you with mental health difficulties.”

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