Shining a light on SAD

Public resources available to help combat symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

More than 15,000 members of Winnipeg’s population are feeling the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression linked to seasonal changes. As of last January, there are more resources in the city to help.

The Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba (MDAM) and two public libraries (St. James Public Library and Millennium Library) partnered to provide the community with free access to SAD light therapy lamps, accessible free of charge for individuals to use.  

“(The lamp) is a broad light spectrum, so it gives the brain energy,” Tara Brousseau Snider counselling psychology and executive director at MDAM, says. 

Brousseau Snider explains that, although MDAM has lamps for rent or purchase, the partnership got started to try and make this resource accessible for those who might not be able to afford the resource otherwise. 

“We’ve been (supplying lamps) for well over 10 years now and certainly we do see people with a difference,” Brousseau Snider says. “If you’re noticing that you’re feeling low at the same time every year you can certainly try a lamp.” 

Though Brousseau Snider encourages the use of this resource, she also cautions use without first consulting a healthcare provider, explaining that use at the wrong time of day or alongside pre-existing mental health conditions can cause problems. 

“SAD is almost like a hibernation. You want to hide, gain extra weight, you don’t want to do anything ... you lose interest, and it’s always very seasonal,” Brousseau Snider says. “(It) can affect different people in the fall, (some) people are affected in August, when the days are growing shorter.” 

Dr. Michael Ellery, clinical psychologist and contract academic staff at the University of Winnipeg, gives more detail on how to navigate the symptoms.  

“SAD is ... more than feeling a little down, which many of us might feel for any number of reasons this time of year,” Ellery says. “It can show up differently for different people: feeling sad most of the time, crying often, difficulty concentrating, gloomy thoughts, changes in weight or appetite, sleep problems.”

Ellery urges those who are unsure about their symptoms to speak with a health professional, explaining that depression is diagnosed based on symptoms that last a certain amount of time.

“Depression can affect daily life by interfering with motivation and increasing desire to withdraw from life,” Ellery says. “It can result in things like work absences and harmed relationships. One particularly important effect is the increased risk of suicide.” 

Potential treatments include light therapy, psychotherapy (including cognitive behavioural therapy) and antidepressant medication. Ellery says there are other ways to combat depression. 

“Regular physical activity of moderate intensity seems to help with low to moderate levels of depression,” Ellery says. “Avoiding the urge to withdraw from socializing would also be important. Don't let the depression get in the way of seeking out social supports.”

For those experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts, or who know someone who is, please contact Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line at 1-877-435-7170 or visit reasontolive.ca.

Published in Volume 71, Number 17 of The Uniter (January 26, 2017)

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