By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
There’s much to enjoy this time of year; the kids are back at school, evenings are cool and crisp, and the holidays are on their way. However, the change in season can also cause feelings of sadness and, for some, serious symptoms of depression. But why does this happen? And what can we do to tackle it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is when depression and related symptoms occur in a seasonal pattern – in most cases during fall and winter. While research is ongoing, it’s believed that the reduction in sunlight at this time of year can stop the hypothalamus in the brain from working effectively. This can increase the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that makes you sleepy; reduce levels of serotonin, which regulates your mood, and disrupt the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm), upsetting your appetite and sleeping patterns.
Symptoms are similar to those of non-seasonal depression. Sadness, low mood, and feelings of guilt or hopelessness are common, and some people lose the desire to spend time with others or engage in physical contact. Many experience a lack of energy and sleep far more or less than usual, while others report an increase in appetite, particularly with regard to snacks and carbohydrates. Those with severe SAD may have suicidal thoughts.
As with other mental health difficulties, the first port of call is your GP, who will assess your mental health and suggest possible treatment. For milder SAD symptoms, they may suggest simple lifestyle changes, such as spending more time outside to increase your exposure to sunlight. Exercise is also a very effective way of improving your mood, energy levels and sleep while, if outdoors, boosting your time in the daylight.
Though more research is needed, light therapy is widely believed to help lessen SAD symptoms. A special lamp called a lightbox or SAD lamp is used to simulate exposure to sunlight, supporting your brain to produce more normal levels of serotonin, and reducing the production of melatonin. Some people use their lamp in the morning to simulate an early rising sun, while others turn them on in the evening to elongate their experience of ‘daylight’.
Light therapy can be used alongside other therapies to ease SAD. Talking therapies like counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) are sometimes recommended to alleviate negative thought patterns. Your GP may also recommend antidepressants such as SSRIs to regulate your mood during the darker months.
The pharmacy can also help with milder cases of SAD. In times of less sunlight, a Vitamin D supplement like those made by Nature’s Bounty, Solgar or Now is often recommended to support your mood and maintain healthy brain and nerve health. St John’s Wort products like Nature’s Bounty St. John’s Wort and Omega-3 fatty acids found in cold-water fish, flaxseed, flax oil, walnuts, and supplements like Solgar Omega-3 (from Salmon Oil), Nature’s Truth Fish Oil and Flaxseed Oil are also considered effective remedies for low mood.
The fall is also a good time to boost your eight B vitamins which work together to manage key bodily functions – including regulating stress levels. Try a combined supplement like Z-Bec, Berocca or B-Complex +C or a Vitamin B12 supplement like Sundown B-12 which is available as a liquid and sublingual tablet, or Nature’s Bounty Vitamin B Energy Gummies for depression or anxiety symptoms – especially if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. Many also find Magnesium supplements like Calm powder or capsules, Bioglan magnesium powder, and Sundown Magnesium tablets reduce feelings of anxiety.
If you think you may be affected by SAD, do speak to your GP or pharmacist. There are many ways to help improve your mood and see you through to next summer. If you or someone you know are having suicidal thoughts please contact your GP, emergency services or dial 911 immediately.
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.