Article by Joey Chini and Brandon Burnett
The weather has as big an impact on mental health as it does on the roads. Approximately 1 in 8 adults experience the symptoms of a mood disorder at least once in their lifetime. After a week of relatively warm February weather, Toronto was hit with another 15 centimetres of snow, and then yet another cold snap.
This dark time of year can cause something called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. According to CAMH, SAD is a type of depression that usually occurs during the winter, and is directly linked to a change in weather. There is a less common version of SAD that occurs in the summer, but most cases occur during the winter months, due to what professionals believe is a lack of sunlight.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), 2-3% of the population are diagnosed with SAD, and the disorder makes up 10% of all depression cases in Canada. Fifteen per cent of the population will experience a milder form of the disorder, which won’t significantly alter their daily life. Women are more likely to be affected by SAD, as well as people who live a greater distance from the equator.
In a press release from the American Psychological Association, Dr. Kelly Rohan, PhD says,
“I strongly recommend against self-diagnosis and self-treatment, because depression, including SAD, is a serious mental health problem.”
The CMHA provides a list of symptoms to watch out for:
- I feel like sleeping all the time, or I’m having trouble getting a good night’s sleep
- I’m tired all the time, it makes it hard for me to carry out daily tasks
- My appetite has changed, particularly more cravings for sugary and starchy foods
- I’m gaining weight
- I feel sad, guilty and down on myself
- I feel hopeless
- I’m irritable
- I’m avoiding people or activities I used to enjoy
- I feel tense and stressed
- I’ve lost interest in sex and other physical contact
“The good news is that research in the field shows effective treatments are available, including light therapy, medications and CBT. So there are options for people affected by SAD. There is not a one-size-fits-all treatment approach,” Rohan said.
CMHA also recommends ways to treat SAD (as always, you’re going to want to see a doctor first): there is a light therapy exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art–keep in mind there are side effects associated with light therapy such as eye strain, nausea and headaches. Counselling for depression and anxiety issues can be found free to post secondary students through organizations like Good2Talk.
Exercise, eating right, getting the right amount of sleep and talking to friends and relatives is also proven to decrease and even prevent symptoms of depression. Finally, if it comes down to it, you can ask your doctor for medication–although meds work in all sorts of ways and affect everyone differently, it can be the difference between sickness and health for some people–just make sure you discuss with your doctor which treatment method is right for you.