After surviving harrowing months of intense heat, rain and all forms of nature’s fury, winter is a welcome time for partying. But while you and your buddies dash from one party to another, making the best of the long wintry nights, there are many who are down and out, gloomy and depressed, resigning to solitude and slumber.
Winters bring on the "blues",which should not be confused with regular mood swings. Feeling depressed during winters is recognised as a clinical disorder millions of people suffer from.
Known as the Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), it usually occurs with the change of weather, especially during the winter season. SAD is recognised in the DSM-IV (The American Psychiatric Association's diagnostic manual) as a sub-type of major depressive episode.
Spotting the Blues
Symptoms of SAD include a tendency to oversleep, crying spells, loss of appetite or overeating, morning sickness and lethargy. Other manifestations include difficulty in completing tasks and interacting with family and friendsas well as repulsiion to social activities.
These lead to depression, existential crisis, a feeling of helplessness, lack of motivation and will to engage in activities.
According to globally reknowned psychologist and mind-body-soul transformation expert, Dr Aruna Broota, winter depression has got a lot to do with the lack of exposure to light during harsh and chilly winter months.
“People feel depressed and lethargic during winters due to lack of exposure to light” - Dr Broota, Psychologist
“The days are shorter and as soon as the sun sets, the strong urge to rush back to the house overpowers the will to engage in social events and interactions,"says Dr Broota.
“Being an active neurobiological agent, light plays a crucial role in regulating serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain. Lack of light leads to insufficient levels of serotonin which can consequentially result in depression, lack of energy, sleep issues, mood swings and poor impulse control,"explains Dr Broota.
More Women Get SAD
A person predisposed to depression is more vulnerable and should seek professional counselling because SAD could take a toll on mental health.
According to a study, 70-80% of those suffering from SAD are women. Dr Broota, who counsels a sizable number of women, says there is a steady inflow of patients not just during winters but also during monsoons. Cloud cover and the darkness associated with it contribute to the negative effects of SAD, she explains.
Dr Broota also attributes the higher number of women to an interesting observation that women have become more vocal about issues concerning mental health than men.
Beating the “Blues”
Talking about ways to combat winter depression, which is often confused with winter mood swings, Dr Broota says, “Most patients can be treated by therapy and counselling but what remains a challenge is to diagnose the depression, and to get the patients to come to terms with the idea of being 'depressed'.”
Walk for at least 35 minutes daily, practice pranayam and yoga, listen to soothing music more often and remain socially active during winters - DR Broota
“Interacting with people, thinking positively, and wearing happy colours are some ways to keep seasonal depression at bay. Interacting with people, even at one’s workplace helps a person from going into a shell," adds Dr Broota.
Medication is advised only in severe cases.
Dr Broota is of the strong opinion that in order to address the issues surrounding mental health what must be alleviated is the stigma attached to depression and mental illness.
"Majority of people hold negative attitudes and stereotypes towards people with mental illness. It is appalling to see how children refer to people with mental illness as ‘mad’ or ‘crazy’ and then as a result of ideological indoctrination go on to use these terms throughout adulthood as well.”
“People must be made aware of how mental health is just as important and 'normal' as physical health and there is nothing embarrassing about consulting counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists as and when required," says Dr Broota.
With the onset of a long winter season, instances of SAD is bound to rise. She advises that it is wise to seek professional counselling before a small mental health issue gets blown into a full blown depression or other psychological disorder.