Low Country mental health experts talk about seasonal depression

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) – According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 5% of adults experience seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression, and a Lowcountry mental health facility is working to make sure people get the services they need.

Melissa Camp is the Director of Clinical Operations at Live Oak Mental Health and Wellness. Their inpatient and outpatient services help people with mental health problems.

“One of the things we’ve found is that the change in weather and seasons affects some people in a way that it can drop their energy levels significantly because it’s darker and colder during the day and there’s more inside,” says Camp.

He explains that anyone, even those who are generally mentally healthy, can suffer from seasonal depression for a number of reasons.

It’s weird because we think about the holidays and we think about happiness and family and joy and for a lot of people that’s true, but there are a significant number of people who experience more depression this time of year and it’s totally okay for that to happen, but sometimes people have a hard time understand that, says Camp.

With less sunlight, people may lack vitamin D, their internal sleep cycles may change, and their appetite may also decrease. All of these can culminate in seasonal depression.

Dr. Valerie Scott, Roper Primary Care Physician, says your mental health plays a big role in your physical health.

In basic health care, we notice that mental health plays a huge role in almost everyone’s life. It may affect the treatment of your chronic condition, or it may just be your primary concern, Scott says.

Scott and Camp agree that while people may feel that seasonal depression isn’t as big a deal as other mental struggles, it’s very important to address it.

It’s a form of depression, and it’s a real illness. It’s not just that it’s cold outside. It’s classified as depression, but it only occurs a couple of months a year, Scott says.

Seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depression can affect people up to 40% of the year. Camp says that any changes in your mental health should be discussed with your doctor.

They’re right that seasonal depression probably isn’t quite as severe as some of our major depression or bipolar disorder, but it’s still very real, right? It’s still difficult, says Camp. And so I think even more than anything else, recognizing that it’s a real thing that you might need some extra support, whether it’s therapy or medication or whatever it looks like for you, but also just really honing in on self-care.

Symptoms include less energy than normal, loss of appetite and a feeling of loneliness. Camp says self-care means things like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and interacting with stressors like alcohol in moderation this time of year.

Camp says self-care means things like getting enough sleep, eating nutritious foods and interacting with stressors like alcohol in moderation this time of year. Scott says that seasonal depression can be officially diagnosed after two years of recurring problems. But fortunately, the treatment is proven.

We know that going outside and sunbathing can help, especially if your symptoms are mild, but many studies have shown that Light Boxes give you 10,000 lux of light, and that can really change the state, says Scott. This must be done after consulting a doctor. We also know that antidepressants like Prozac have been fully studied for this condition. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown to be just as good as the other therapies I discussed in treating this condition.

Experts say it all starts with talking to your doctor. If you need answers to immediate questions, Tridents Live Oak Mental Health and Wellness Center is available 24/7 at 843-797-4200.

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