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Holiday Depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder

The holiday season, stretching from Thanksgiving through New Years, can be a time of joy, celebration, gatherings with family and friends and reflection of blessings. This is not the case for all, as many people reflect on their current situation, be it financial, relational, spiritual or other. They look at the past with disappointment and to the future with uncertainty. Holiday Depression and SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder are two distinct mental health conditions that are real during this time of year.

According to Mental Health America, many factors can cause the "holiday blues": stress, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, over-commercialization, financial constraints, and the inability to be with one's family and friends. The demands of shopping, parties, family reunions and house guests also contribute to feelings of tension. People may also develop other stress responses such as headaches, excessive drinking, over-eating and difficulty sleeping. Even more people experience post-holiday let down after January 1. This can result from disappointments during the preceding months compounded by the excess fatigue and stress (www.mentalhealthamerica.net).

To cope with stress and depression during the holidays, Mental Health America recommends: keep expectations for the holiday season manageable, be realistic about what you can and cannot do, remember the holiday season does not banish reasons for feeling sad or lonely, leave "yesteryear" in the past and look toward the future, do something for someone else, enjoy activities that are free, be aware that excessive drinking will only increase your feelings of depression, celebrate the holidays in a new way, spend time with supportive and caring people, and most important - save time for yourself!

Symptoms of depression during the winter months, with symptoms subsiding during the spring and summer months, may be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, mood changes, sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, social and sexual problems. A diagnosis of SAD can be made after three consecutive winters of these symptoms if they are also followed by complete remission of symptoms in the spring and summer months. Treatments include spending time outdoors, photo therapy, and medication if indicated.

Resources exist in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro, to help get through the holiday season, should you or someone you know exhibit any of these symptoms. First of all, contact your health care provider. Secondly, contact Mental Health America of Augusta at 886-7181 or 949-0169. Next, call the I & R: Information and Referral line at 211 for other needed resources or services in the area. For the many that do not understand mental health diagnosis, signs and symptoms, causes and treatments, Mental Health America of Augusta has resources for you to take to your church, civic group or place of work to reduce the stigma of Mental Illness. Contact Donna Gum at the above listed numbers or at mhaa [at] ntelos.net. Website is at www.mha-augusta.org/.

Article provided by Dana H. Breeding, RN Health Educator of Community Wellness, at Augusta Health. To contact Dana Breeding, RN related to the above information please call (540) 332-4988 or (540) 932-4988.