Beat the Winter Blues

Paul Ballas Health Guide
  • Don't underestimate how much the weather can affect your mood. The American Academy of Family Physicians has estimated roughly half a million Americans suffer from seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that typically begins as winter approaches. Daylight Savings Time just passed, and people are noticing that there is less and less light out. After the autumnal equinox (usually around September 21), each day gets progressively longer until the winter solstice, around December 21 each year.  Patients with schizophrenia sometimes find themselves vulnerable to depressed mood, but don't bring these symptoms to their physician's attention. Part of the reason may be that they are worried about being prescribed more medication, and patients on antipsychotic medications tend to suffer from a number of side effects and are not keen on making them worse by adding another medication. 

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    This time of year can be tough on some people, and being affected by the lower light is nothing to be ashamed of. As I mentioned above, you are not alone. Half a million Americans can sympathize with you. It's curious how different aspects of our environment can seriously affect our mental health. Just recently, a new report in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine presented evidence that areas of the country with higher levels of precipitation have higher rates of autism. The authors' analysis of survey data from the U.S. Department of Education showed that the amount of precipitation from 1987 through 2001 was positively related to the rates of autism of children who grew up during this time. 


    This does not mean that rain causes autism, nor am I suggesting if you live in a Northern state you should move to the south to lower your chances of having a child with schizophrenia. I'm presenting this information to explain that in many ways the environmental conditions around us can have significant effects on mental health. So if you are one of the roughly 500,000 Americans who have depressive symptoms as the year winds down here are some general tips. 


    First, tell your psychiatrist. If you are worried about taking more medication for depression on top of your medications for schizophrenia, you should discuss this. Maybe now would be a good time to try some talk therapy strategies to keep your mood up.  Perhaps your psychiatrist won't want to change your medication regimen because your progress has been good. In any case, I'm fairly certain any psychiatrist would want to know if their patient was getting depressed. 


    Also keep in mind that there are different options. Yes, many doctors treat seasonal affective disorder with antidepressants, but in addition to medication and talk therapy, light therapy may be an option for depression that comes on this time of year. Your doctor may be able to prescribe you a special light box that you would sit in front of for a certain amount of time daily (usually at least 20 minutes). This treatment may be enough to help out with the winter blues.


Published On: November 06, 2008