BY WESLEY BUTLER
The winter can be a happy time of year, but there are those who feel depressed when the season arrives. The Canadian Mental Health Association helps people with seasonal affective disorder by providing them with specialized lights that simulate sunlight in their homes.
“The reason why some people get depressed in the winter is because of the lack of light,” said Linda Bender, co-ordinator of community development and education services at CMHA. “These lights are designed particularly for people with this disorder, so they can be under the same amount of light they would be in the summer.”
Known as “light therapy,” people with seasonal affective disorder sit beside a special fluorescent light box for about 20 minutes per day. When they notice their symptoms going away, they can stop using the lights.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that some people experience in the winter, and occasionally in the summer. The symptoms of this disorder include thoughts of hopelessness, increased appetite with weight gain, loss of energy, lack of concentration and social withdrawal.
For people with mild symptoms, Bender recommends they spend more time outdoors during the day and arrange their environments so they get as much light as possible. They should move furniture so they can sit close to windows, install skylights and add lamps in their homes.
For people with more severe symptoms, antidepressant medications are safe to take. Counselling and short-term treatments such as cognitive-behavioural therapy will help with depression.
There are many ways seasonal affective disorder can be treated at home, such as cutting down on sugar intake, eating more fruits and vegetables, and exercising every day for about 30 minutes. Alcohol should not be consumed as much in the winter, because it can make the depression worse, and create thoughts of suicide.
Although awareness of this mental condition has existed for over 150 years, it was not recognized as a disorder until the early 1980s.
“Many people who have the disorder don’t know what it is,” said Bender. “But the mental health association spreads awareness of it and provides help to those who have it.”
Research in Ontario suggests that two to three per cent of the general population may have seasonal affective disorder. Another 15 per cent suffer from the less severe “winter blues.”
The disorder may affect some children and teenagers, but it usually begins in people over the age of 20, with the condition occurring more in women.
For more information about seasonal affective disorder, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association at 519-740-7782.
BY WESLEY BUTLER