LET’S TALK ABOUT SEASONAL AFFECTIVE DISORDER:

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By Rev. Wambui Njoroge, MSc

Since arriving in the US, people report feeling depressed, with “no reason” as that is how some have described it.  They do not have a history of depression, nor can they pinpoint a psychosocial stressors like death, divorce, drugs, job lose, recently diagnosed sickness and disease, or denial of problems. Why is this case? Is this true? The answer is yes. Some immigrants arriving from Africa and warm tropical climates who settle in cold climates, may experience depression for the first time in their lives. Initially, some mistake depressive symptoms to be home sickness. But there is a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which is more prevalent among people who live in cold climates.

SAD is an acronym for Seasonal affective disorder. It is a type of depression, which is alternately diagnosed as a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern. Some folks call it winter blues or sadness that stem from nowhere. Someone has previously remarked that, “many people did not seem to suffer from depression back home.”  There are some people who might have noticed that they are sad during winter season. Think about a person who is depressed as soon as Fall starts, the depression is worse during Winter. Some may say they feel like they are in a “dark place”, or in the pits. Then by Spring, the same people SPRING back into life without taking any medication. Have you heard a person repeat that, “my life seems to fall apart during Fall, and it is darker during winter?” This person has an accurate observation and may be suffering from SAD.

SAD can be diagnosed by your Primary Care Physician or mental health provider. SAD is associated with depression episodes related to seasonal light changes. People with SAD live and suffer from symptoms of depression ONLY during fall and winter months. This is a time when days are shorter and darker, and the nights are long. Just like we read in geography books, but many of us had not experienced the four seasons of Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. This became an experience for individuals when many moved to America, Europe or Canada, and other countries with cold Climates.  People who seek help from depression report that they do not have depressive episodes during spring and summer. They are the ones who pressure their doctors to stop prescribing meds. Could they be correct? Could they have a drug holiday in the Spring and Summer? My answer is, probably yes!!  However, having a drug holiday from taking prescribed medication must be considered, and consented to between patient and doctor. In the case of Children and Youth, parents and guardians have the right to know and to participate in the decision-making process. It is not only adults who suffer from SAD, children and youth suffer too.

SAD may be caused by variations of light changes in sunlight patterns. These changes can influence the body’s internal clock. On darker days, the brain produces more of the hormone melatonin, which may cause symptoms of depression. This reminds me of Kenya-we read as a matter of fact that Equator is an imaginary line that divides the globe into two equal parts and consequently, it divides Kenya into two equal parts too. We know that the sun’s lays are very strong at the equator. It is possible for a person to get sun burn on a cloudy day. As kids, we were warned not to spend too much time outside, especially in the middle of the day. Some of the vocabulary we learned early is that the sun is on its zenith around noon. Since coming to America, many have learned that over exposure to sunlight can also cause skin cancer. Another characteristic is that there seems to be harmony in nature. Sunrise and sunset occur pretty much on the clock. In most tropical countries and the islands of the sea, the weather doesn’t seem to change drastically. While the USA has four seasons, Kenya and most of Africa have two seasons-a dry season and a wet season.  It seems to me, that our bodies were acclimated to that natural clock and harmony with nature. May be our bodies are telling us we need the sun as much as we need that internal clock. Unfortunately, most people cannot pack their suitcases and return to Africa in a hurry, to live with an internal clock and live in harmony with nature just like that. What can people do? Maybe some people need to be in the sun to brighten their mood – I am thinking about the song by The Temptations, “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day, when it’s cold outside, I’ve got the month of May, I guess you’d say, what can make me feel this way?” Could it be cold or sunshine? Talking about the seasons? Seasonal affective disorder may also improve if a person can get out in the sun at least 30-60 minutes a day. That early morning light can work wonders at preventing SAD. But if the sad mood does not just go away, it is important to consult a mental health provider.

Treatment: Seasonal affective disorder, may improve if a person can get out in the sun at least 30-60 minutes a day. That early morning light can work wonders at preventing SAD. But if the sad mood does not just go away, it is important to consult a mental health provider. Again, since it is usually cold in Winter, most people with SAD can be treated with phototherapy or increased exposure to natural light. Light therapy requires an individual to sit close to a special light every morning at least 30 minutes. Or sit outside in the early morning sun for about 30 minutes or take that brisk walk for 30 minutes. This triggers the brain to increase the production of serotonin. This is a natural chemical in the brain that acts much like antidepressants. If one’s condition worsens and affects daily functioning in major areas of life, medication may be prescribed. This is a decision that is made between the patient and their doctor. Proverbs 11:14 is one of my favorite scriptures, which is applicable here. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors, there is safety.” Seek the right counsel for your condition.

My notes- There is a near perfect alternative-one may decide to move back home-or move from a cold climate to a warmer climate. When visiting AZ, I noticed that the natives called the sun over AZ skies, “the healing sun.”  In addition, Sedona in AZ is known as a place for alternative healing, to the extent that some people believe that it is the most spiritual place in the U.S. And Florida is known as the Sunshine State, while California is the Golden State-especially warmer southern California. The sun over California is warm and has less humidity.

In addition, people being exposed to sunlight, is the most natural way to get Vitamin D. Apparently if one lives where there is sunshine, one may not need to take very high daily doses of vitamin D because they get this vitamin from the sun. Perhaps moving to warmer states Like Arizona where the sun shines 85% of the time, Hawaii, Florida, or Southern CA, or maybe Southern GA may be the miracle one has been praying for.  My friend, where you were born was not your choice, but where you live is your choice. The environment you have selected to live in could be toxic to your health, in which, case, you can plan to move and perhaps you might not need to take medication.  Also, you may find seasonal work, where you work six months in the Fall and Winter and return to work in the North during Spring and Summer.  Sometimes, folks are praying for a miracle of healing when the answer is already provided. The sun has natural healing elements, and this may be the one medicine that a person needs. Just live in the sunlight – it helps too with Vitamin D. So, the answer is yes. There is a type of depression that many people in Diaspora did not experience, just by living where the sun shines bright through the year. It is no wonder that Europeans called Nairobi, Paradise, and the city in the Sun. Another favorite destination in Kenya is the warm coastal region of Mombasa. We can talk about how God is amazing in all that He has done. This is not to say that people in Kenya are more depressed or less. There are many types of depression, but SAD seems to affect more people who live in cold climates.

What next? SAD may also affect the younger population.  Whatever is problematic for adults, may also be prevalent in the school population. It is easy to ascribe some behaviors to role modeling, but certain conditions can be found among family members living in the same place. The way we know some things are not working well with children and youth, is how they respond to school and activities, therein.

Helpful Resources in crisis: If you or someone you know is suicidal or homicidal, Call the Nationwide/988/Lifeline.org. One can chat, text or email. The call is confidential. A trained counselor will be available to help you connect with needed help. Or Go to the emergency room of the hospital near you. For more reading on SAD, information, advice, or referrals to local services-Reach National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Web site: www.nami.org    National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Web Site: www.nimh.nih.gov

About me: Wambui is a freelance writer for Kenyan parents in USA/Rev. Wambui Corner.   She is a wife, mother, guitarist, and ordained minister, and writes articles on family life, education, health, Church ministry, and Christians and politics. She ministers with Triumph Christian Ministries, Inc. CEO and Programs Host Comments/revwambuifavored@gmail.com (Jan ©2023)

Disclaimer-the suggestions in this article belong to the writer. Resources are available online as cited. Suggestions should NEVER be used as a substitute for informed consent and decision that is made between a patient and their doctor. Please report any negative side effects from meds to your clinician/nurse or counselor.

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