Winter’s in full swing and for much of the country (not to mention all of Canada) the majority of our days are spent under cloud cover. It seems as if the weather is perpetually gray. This leads many people, even the best of us, to experience depressed feelings. Sometimes, it is a case of seasonal affective disorder, which goes by the most apt acronym of all: SAD.
Roughly 35 million people in the U.S. alone get the blues during gloomy winter months. Changes to sunlight patterns affect our bodies, causing slight shifts in our biological internal clocks or “circadian rhythm.” If turning the clocks back for daylight savings time makes you tired and depressed, imagine what the change of seasons can do to you.
The culprit behind SAD is an overproduction of “melatonin,” a hormone produced in the dark that causes symptoms of depression. If SAD is seriously affecting your life, then you can try bright-light therapy. You either get treatments at a therapist’s office or there are home light systems you can use. Ask your doctor about this option.
In the winter especially, we are more prone to chalk up depressed feelings to SAD. May people think that everything will be better when the sun comes out. Many times this just isn’t the case. There are many other hidden causes of depression you should know about (not to mention the non-hidden causes such as grief, stress, and negative life events). Here are a few to keep in mind, because the best way to cure a problem is to figure out what is causing it:
— B vitamin deficiency: Several B vitamins, if they are in low amounts in the body, are known to cause depression and fatigue. They are vitamins B1 (thiamin), B12, and B6. A poor-quality diet, too much alcohol, and absorption problems are just some of the causes.
— Medications: Depressed feelings are a regular side effect of many popular drugs. These include drugs for hypertension, barbiturates, benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, corticosteroids, birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, medication for neurological disorders, antiseizure medications, and strong pain killers such as meperidine and codeine. Talk to your doctor about switching to a different drug if you suspect this to be causing your depression.
— Alcohol: Drinking too much will lead to anxiety and depressed feelings. Alcohol depresses the central nervous system and this cascades into associated depressive feelings.
— Thyroid problems: Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, which cause disruptions in hormone levels, can also cause depressive feelings. Of the two, hypothyroidism is the one most associated with depression. Treatments for this must be discussed with a doctor, and the most used method is thyroid hormone replacement therapy to make up for the underproduction.
— The ‘Baby Blues’: Another hidden cause is called “mild postpartum depression” and it occurs in seven out of 10 women following childbirth. It lasts up to about 10 days, caused by fluctuated hormone levels after the baby is delivered. Symptoms include poor sleep, uncontrollable crying, anxiety, irritability, and poor concentration. It is often treated with antidepressants or simple counseling. Ask your doctor what the best option is for you.