Winter Blues (SAD) Prevention and Treatment

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Winter

Winter.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Treatments for Winter Blues.

For some people, the Winter Blues is a mild transitory issue. You miss someone who is not there or you wish something were other than it is. But for some people, this becomes a severe emotional problem.

The Winter Blues sometimes is called Seasonal Affective Disorder or more precisely it is Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal features, a diagnosable mental illness.

There are a handful of treatments and the one that is right for you should be chosen in consultation with your doctor, psychiatrist or therapist. Each treatment has its advantages and its limitations.

Light therapy for seasonal affective disorder.

One group of theories about winter blues has their cause as a reduction in the amount of sunlight that occurs during the winter. More light, so the thought goes, and you should be less depressed. The cause could be just the amount of light but it can also be changes in the way your body reacts to the light level so some people are way more sensitive to changes in light levels, light intensity and the amount of sleep they get.

Just leaving on a few lights in the early morning or evening may help a few people but most light therapy involves special lights of high intensity which are close in color and intensity to normal daylight.

The drawbacks to light therapy, above and beyond the cost of special lights, are that to be effective you may need to devote a lot of time on a very regular basis to sitting in these lights. Most often this is done first thing in the morning.

If this works for you, and remember it does not work for everyone, the results will fade in 3 to 5 days if you stop sitting under the lights. Once you start light therapy plan on continuing it until the winter season is over.

Medication seasonal depression.

Some people react well and quickly to antidepressants. Not everyone gets the same benefits from the same meds. You need to work with your doctor on this and start early, take the meds as prescribed and keep them up until any chance of a relapse of your depression is passed.

Therapy can reduce seasonal depression.

People with seasonal features to their depression, Winter Blues, in particular, are prone to the same sort of thinking errors that people with other kinds of depression experience. Therapy to correct negative or unhelpful thinking can reduce Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Self-care reduces the impact of seasonal affective disorder.

More exercise, better diet and being around a positive support system can help you avoid or reduce the symptoms of the Winter Blues. Relapse from this condition, like recovery from most issues, requires a program of relapse prevention that includes management of internal triggers like sleep, hunger and emotions as well as management of your contact with outside things such as people and places. Work on staying healthy and being around healthy supportive people.

Combination Therapy

Any or all of the treatments above can be combined. Medication is most often combined with therapy and self-care. Having a strong support system is especially important if you experience Winter Blues.

If you are sad, down or depressed this Holiday season, whether it is because of Winter Blues or some other reason, please take good care of yourself and reach out for help when you need it.

For more about SAD and the risk factors involved take a look the post

Sad – Risk factors. 

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

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Winter Blues (SAD) Risk Factors

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Winter

Winter.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Winter Blues are a troublesome, recurrent form of Major Depressive Disorder.

Every year a select group of people seems to get a recurrent episode of Depression. These symptoms can start as early as age three or four and result in serious impairment. People do poorly in school; lose jobs and relationships as a result of having this disorder.

The major occurrences of this disorder are in the winter months. A few people get recurrent episodes of depression every summer, fewer yet have spring or fall recurrences of depression. The winter version of this disorder is particularly problematic.

We have a large number of theories about why this occurs and what the risk factors are for this disorder but so far treatments and prevention efforts are more hit and miss.

If you have had episodes of Winter Blues you know the havoc it can play with your life.

Technically Winter Blues are diagnosed as a variation of Major Depressive Disorder (MDD.) The specifier of seasonal features is added on to the principle diagnosis of MDD.

Winter Blues is characterized by what is called “atypical” features. The easiest way to describe this is that the person begins to hibernate like an animal preparing for a long winter.

As winter approaches the person with Winter Blues begins to sleep more and more. They increase their food consumption and begin to put on weight. Carbohydrate Cravings are likely to become pronounced. The person with Winter Blues is also likely to avoid others and begin to isolate.

Case studies tell us of a child who became so very different during the winter that for a time they thought this might be a developmental delay. His speech became difficult to understand and he appeared to stop learning. He was tested for autism and retardation.

Then for no apparent reason, he began to function more normally as spring approached. Over subsequent years he regressed each winter and then “bloomed” again as spring returned. One early theory was that he was getting sick in the winter, a common occurrence for a child. But in the year he was sick in the summer and had fewer illnesses the following winter he still improved in ability over the summer and relapsed in the winter. Eventually, at about age 6, this child was diagnosed with a significant form of depression that grew worse each year.

Another woman came for treatment one winter and reported that she was about to lose her job from poor job performance. She had repeatedly over the years done well each summer and received promotions, but in the winters she made mistakes, was disciplined and eventually at risk of losing her job. She was treated for MDD with seasonal features and responded well.

Risk factors for Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The amount of daylight affects mood.

The farther north you live the fewer the hours of daylight in winter. Less light triggers the hibernation response. Some people have it more difficult than others.

Genetics can increase your winter blues risk.

This has been suggested as a factor. It has been a long time since I read much on genetics. If this interests you, I recommend you look it up and not take my fuzzy understanding as the whole story. Here is what one study seems to say.

Variations in the 5-HTTLPR have been suggested as being a risk factor. Some people have long versions and some people have short versions of this gene. Some people inherit two short genes and other people have two long. One of each is also possible. People with two short genes are at extra risk for winter blues, people with two longs are more likely to have a melancholy form of depression.

Eye color may be connected to seasonal affective disorder.

People with blue eyes get more use out of the light. People with brown eyes have more difficulty in Northern latitudes in the winter.

Thinking errors increase all kinds of depression.

People who experience episodes of seasonal affective disorder are more likely to ruminate, assign negative meanings to things and look for the negative.

Whatever the risk factor or the reason someone has recurrent episodes of depression with those seasonal features each winter, the good news is that there are treatments for this form of depression, just as there are treatments for most other mental and emotional disorders.

If you find yourself getting depressed as the winter progresses you do not have to just suffer through it. Please reach out for help.

Coming up soon a post on treatment and prevention of the winter blues.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

What is the difference between depression and Major Depressive Disorder?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Depressed person

Depression.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Depression, Mood Disorder or Major Depressive disorder?

Major Depressive Disorder is a specific diagnosable disorder listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.)  Sometimes we use the term imprecisely to refer to both the common sense feeling of sadness and a series of specific mental disorders that we professionals call mood disorders.

The dictionary definition of depression is essentially sadness. In the mental health field, it means so much more.

The differences in mood or depressive disorders are largely a matter of certain specific features that the person has rather than saying anything about the cause. There are also some related conditions that are not currently official “depressive disorders” but for which depression is a feature.

Confused yet? It takes 4 years of college and two more of grad school to make it all this complicated.

Mood problems often occur in “episodes” so they can come and go with or without treatment. The episodes don’t get specific diagnoses, but they do get used to see if you have all the features of a specific diagnosis.

Now if you are depressed and suicidal, which specific mood disorder you have may not matter to you, but it matters a whole lot to the insurance person approving your treatment. Since not everyone agrees which things are severe enough to require treatment, the list fades in and out with time.

What makes depression into a Major Depressive Disorder rather than garden-variety depression is a few key factors.

How long you been feeling that way?

To be major depression it should have lasted for more than 2 weeks AND there should be at least 4 other symptoms of impairment. The effort here is to separate normal life problems from an illness that needs treating.

How has this affected you?

There needs to be some problem in your life over and above just being sad. Being over sad all the time but not quite getting bad enough to be diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder is called Dysthymic Disorder.

So we look to see can you work? Do you have friends and family? Do you still do some things for fun? These things separate out the sad moods and the sad-for-a-reason from the sad-way-to-much-and-too-long that characterizes Major Depressive Disorder.

Major Depressive Disorder is also separated into “single episodes” and “recurrent.” The first time someone has Major Depression we look more for causes. If they have repeat performances of depression we look at this as likely to be something produced by the person, either biologically or thinking wise.

Depressive Episodes, hence Major Depressive Disorder can also be “graded” into mild, moderate and severe. For the treating professional this helps plan treatment. For the insurance company, it helps them known how big a bill they are getting for this treatment.

Sometimes the depression gets so bad that the brain starts making up stories. This looks a lot like the psychosis in Schizophrenia but it only happens to some people and then only when they are severely depressed.  This is called with (or without) psychosis depending on whether you have or do not have psychosis.

People who have Major Depressive Disorder do not all look or act the same. Some people become so depressed they have trouble moving. This is called Catatonia which is also associated with sleep paralysis.

The old fashion name for depression was melancholy. This is typically very severe in the morning but gets better as the day moves forward. People with this variety also wake up early. They don’t feel like eating and they either sit unable to summon up the energy to do anything, or they pace aimlessly about.  Often they also feel guilty about everything and hate to bother people.

People with atypical features are more like bears hibernating for the winter. They are hungry when awake and they sleep day and night but are still tired.  They are likely to feel that people are rejecting them and don’t what them around. People with atypical features can brighten a little for a while if you dangle something they like in front of them, but this improved mood doesn’t last long.

Postpartum Depression is also a recognized type. This is easy to understand in women soon after the birth of a child, due to the changes in the hormones in the woman’s body. It can also be seen in men especially after the birth of the first child as there is a change in the primary relationship. The fairy tale is over. Some men become excited about fatherhood, others feel like they have lost a lover.

There is also a seasonal pattern associated with depression. Sometimes this is referred to as Seasonal Affective disorder or “winter blues.”  This pattern can occur in the summer or at the spring and fall changes of weather, but those changes are more likely to be associated with Bipolar Disorder than Major Depressive Disorder.

For more on related conditions check the categories list to the right of the posts or watch for words to turn blue indicating they have been linked to other posts about this topic. My plan is to add links as quickly as I can finish the posts of these other topics.

Feel free to leave comments or email me about your questions. While I can’t provide therapy or counseling over the internet, you need to come to see me in the office for that, I will be glad to try to answer questions of general interest.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.