Not being okay is okay: Let’s talk Depression

In the recent times, the term depression has become extremely conversational and is often used in daily conversations. What people fail to realize is the gravity of the term, the fact that depression is a serious illness and the significance of depression as a mental condition. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.

Depression is highly prevalent worldwide but still not recognized as having serious health implications. Mental health is a topic that people lack awareness about, because of the myths surrounding it. Mental illness is not a permanent state of mind, but a temporary condition which generally gets disregarded because of the taboo and the social stigma attached to it. Globally a massive 300 million people suffer from depression and as per health reports, 4-5% of the population of UAE suffer from clinical depression.[1]

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Are you feeling SAD this season?

Have you ever experienced being sad, irritable, moody or have you lost interest in your usual activities all at the same time every year? We have all heard about seasonal changes, even in areas that have only two seasons, but have you heard of seasonal changes in a person?

As surprising as it may sound, some people experience a serious mood change with the change in weather, some people feel down and experience seasonal depression during the winter months particularly. This is a psychological condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

When the temperature levels drop and winter begins to set in, we all begin to function a little slower. We feel like staying at home and cuddling in a blanket to stay cosy. For some people, this feeling gets critical to an extent that it begins interfering with their lives. It is normal to feel irritable or tired during the winter months because of reduced light and shorter days but if this becomes a recurring issue every year during the winter months, making it difficult to function normally, chances are that you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder. SAD is a sub-type of depression that comes and goes during seasons.

Feeling slightly down every now and then is normal as everybody goes through this feeling at some point in time. However feeling sad and depressed can sometimes become incapacitate and have severe consequences to the extent of the person feeling suicidal.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder vary from feeling depressed throughout the day for almost every day, having very low energy, no interest in things you generally like to do, to feeling irritated, having difficulty in concentrating, sleeping etc. Symptoms also vary depending on seasons. The winter specific symptoms of SAD include tiredness, changes in appetite, weight gain, feeling lethargic, feeling of heaviness in the limbs, hypersensitivity to rejection, withdrawal symptoms etc.  However, the symptoms of depression aren’t always as obvious, as they manifest themselves in many other ways. Sometimes the changes may be very subtle and the person undergoing the changes may fail to realise it, although people surrounding will surely notice the changes.

Melatonin is a hormone produced in our body to regulate sleep and wakefulness. Light affects the amount of melatonin produced in the body. Normally melatonin levels remain high throughout the night and drop in the morning. This may differ with seasonal changes, during the shorter days the body may produce melatonin either earlier or later than usual, hence leading to symptoms of SAD. This causes a disruption in the normal functioning of the body’s internal system because melatonin slows down the nervous system and induces sleep and low levels of energy.

Seasonal depression in the winter is linked to excess production of melatonin, however, SAD may affect people even in the summer months. Research shows that people in the UAE suffer from the inverted form of SAD where people feel that they are trapped indoors because of the scorching heat in this region during the summer months. The study also established a link between depressive symptoms and decreasing levels of Vitamin D.

SAD, however, is a treatable disorder and the awareness among people about the condition is rather less. There are some ailments that can be resolved without medical help, however certain symptoms, particular symptoms of SAD when appears all together is an indication that urgent medical attention is required.  Consulting a specialist on noticing any of the visible and obvious symptoms of depression is recommended. At an individual level, on noticing symptoms of SAD, one can undertake a few steps like;

  • Soaking up some sun even in the winter months. Sitting by the window, opening all the blinds or curtains during the day will help absorb as much sunlight as possible. Even the smallest amount of sunlight counts.
  • Regular physical activity is a must to keep the body from feeling lethargic and to keep the blood flowing. Simple exercises like stretching or yoga can be done indoors.
  • Photo therapy, the practice of light treatment can be used to mimic sunlight, the feeling of being in the sun indoors. It can also be used even during the dark hours.

Despite all this, medication and therapy may be required if the symptoms get too extreme. Getting over the symptoms of SAD may not be as easy as it may seem. Sometimes people require extra help because if the symptoms get severe, people may resort to activities like excess alcohol intake, drug abuse and even suicide. There are a number of treatment options for SAD and it is best to visit a doctor sooner than later when new symptoms develop.

Dr.Mohammed Yousef

Specialist Psychiatrist

Aster Clinic, Al Muteena (DMPC)

Dr.-Mohammed-Yousaf- muteena

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