Healthy Living: Being assertive with mental health

A year ago, I had a compulsion to write and share some of my mental health and addiction thoughts and experiences, with readers, by means of this awesome community newspaper and its website.

I’m full of gratitude that I’ve been able to write about the mental health benefits of gratitude, among many other important topics that influence our brain, behaviour and overall well-being.

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However, more importantly right now, the reason I typed my first article about being proactive with mental health, was to highlight the potential depression that can accompany fall-time weather in our coastal climate.

Like a sly pickpocket thief, Daylight Saving Time just stole an hour of light in an already grey, potentially listless season, when lethargy can make every experience weighty and difficult.

For many people, the potential to experience varying degrees of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are high and the effects can range from disheartening to devastating.

SAD is a type of depression that is usually triggered by changes in the amount of sunlight we receive, therefore, as the days shorten and firewood becomes a “hot” commodity, we can try to be proactive; or even preemptive, with our mental health around this particular type of depression.

Depression can result in severe impairment and lead to addiction and many other crippling, self-destructive behaviours. Anyone is susceptible to depression but statistics say four out of five people affected by SAD are women.

What can be done to confront depression that is associated with this season?

Self-awareness is usually the first, and often most difficult step, in confronting depression and its accompanying negative behaviour, like substance abuse. Some symptoms of SAD include: fatigue, general disinterest in things, oversleeping and changes in appetite.

SAD is prevalent when our amounts of vitamin D storage are low. Vitamin D supplements can be a simple start. Also, taking advantage of any, however brief, amount of sunlight is effective.

As difficult as it is to recognize symptoms of mental unhealthiness during lethargic episodes, I have found, with practice, repetition and a lot of patience with your “self,” some awareness can be achieved.

Practices such as meditation, light therapy and cognitive behaviour treatment (CBT) can be invaluable tools in dealing with seasonal depression.

Some studies around the neuroscience of SAD have shown the neurotransmitter serotonin, the chemical responsible for feelings of happiness, can have seasonal rhythm in its production and availability.

With this in mind, simple, light physical exercise has been acknowledged as influential in the production of serotonin, dopamine and other neurochemicals associated with feelings of happiness.

If experiencing prolonged episodes of SAD, pharmacologic solutions can be an appropriate response if depression is particularly severe. Medications such as bupropion or fluoxetine can be suggested by a health professional and have been effective for some people. Everyone is different and everyone reacts to all therapy uniquely.

In my experience, as fall casts a heavy shadow and the inevitability of winter is present, a proactive approach to seasonal depression is the essential element to surviving and, maybe even thriving, this challenging season.

Robert Skender is a Powell River freelance writer and health commentator.

Copyright © Powell River Peak


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