Two Quick Reminders: Seasonal Depression and Off to School

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Labor Day weekend. Time for two quick seasonal reminders:

     

    The days are becoming shorter. Many of you, from past experience, are already experiencing a state of terror. As bipolars, we are extremely sensitive to the change in the seasons, which makes us sitting ducks for winter depressions. Even in the San Diego area where I live, this is a major concern. 

     

    Winter depression - officially known as seasonal affective disorder - is believed to be result from a drop in our accustomed sunlight. In many instances, we may experience no sunlight at all. We go to work in the dark, stay indoors, come home in the dark. 

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    We were not built for this. The best explanation is that our pineal gland contains light sensitive cells. Exposure and non-exposure to light affects the production of melatonin, which is involved in the regulation of circadian rhythms, including sleep. Throwing our cycles out of whack is an open invitation to depression.

     

    The obvious solution to expose yourself to light. This may mean rearranging your schedule to take brisk outdoor walks in what limited winter sun there is, with the added benefit of exercise (with its own antidepressant effects). Or, if you haven’t invested yet in a light box, now would be the time to start making inquiries. Think of a light box as a sort of desktop sun. Be wary of using it in the evening, as this may lead to overstimulation and risk of mania.

     

    Next seasonal reminder:

     

    If you have a kid heading off to college, pay close attention. College age is prime time for bipolar showing its face. A lot of this has to do with the biology of life transitions and brain development, but a completely new environment is almost certainly a contributing factor, if not the primary trigger.

     

    Suddenly kids are operating on very different schedules. I use the term, schedule, advisedly. They are waking up and going to sleep at unpredictable hours. They may be pulling all-nighters. They may be partying into the morning. They may sleep till three in the afternoon.

     

    If your kid already has bipolar, it is not enough to simply advise her to stay on her meds. Yes, college life can be crazy and stimulating. But it is vital to find some sort of schedule and stick to it. In particular, your kid needs to keep on top of her assigned work. The last thing we want is all-nighter piling on top of all-nighter. 

     

    In a college context, sleep aids the learning experience by helping lay down new memories. Pulling all-nighters obviously sabotages this. As well, a regular sleep schedule is the best mood stabilizer going.

     

    Kids, of course, never listen to their parents. But they do want to fit in with their peers. In other words, the last thing kids want is other kids talking about their weird and inappropriate behavior. Leaving the party early, in other words, may you kid’s best insurance against becoming socially radioactive. There will be more parties. Maybe your kid will listen to that.

     

    Enjoy your Labor Day ...

Published On: September 01, 2013