It’s still dark when she gets up. Laura feels it like a heavy blanket. The weight of it is oppressive. She’s methodical in her tasks: she finishes her coffee, gets the kids breakfast, makes lunches, and sends them out the door to the bus.
She knows there are e-mails to respond to, phone calls to return. She knows that if she gets dinner into the crockpot early, it will make life that much easier when the kids are home from school. But she goes back to bed instead. She thinks perhaps another hour of sleep is what she needs to get back on track.
Later, a friend invites her for coffee and she politely declines. The thought of doing her hair and makeup to go out is overwhelming. She dreads the prospect of putting on a smile and making small talk for an hour.
By the time the kids arrive home, shortly after 4 p.m., the sky is already dusky. Lights in the house blaze as dark falls by dinnertime. Her husband notices her lack of energy, her subdued responses; a silly child may elicit a smile, but not much more.
He asks about her day. She gives him a monotone, “Fine.” They are all the same.
Day after day, the story is the same.
Does Laura’s story sound familiar?
It’s easy to ignore the warning signs of depression. Symptoms identified in isolation are easy to justify away. We tell ourselves, “It’s just PMS.” or “I had a bad night.” “It will get better.” “I just need to snap out of it.”
And while it’s very possible that low energy or a bad day is a one-time occurrence, sometimes it’s more pervasive than that. Seasonal Affective Disorder—also known as SAD or winter depression—if left unchecked, can have a devastating toll on individuals and families.
Regardless whether your low mood is circumstantial or something deeper, it’s important to know that you are not alone. In the UK alone, experts estimate one in 15 individuals are affected by SAD between the months of September and April, with women twice as likely to experience symptoms of depression than men.1
Despite much discussion about mental health in public spheres, many women simply don’t feel empowered to speak openly about their depression. There is a tendency to withdraw from relationships because we don’t want to be a burden, we think we can figure it out on our own, or it’s embarrassing to admit that we don’t have it all together.
And because of that, many aren’t finding the support they need, both in the community and in the church. Amy Simpson, author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, writes, “There’s an assumption among many people that if they were honest about what they experienced, it would be rejected or they would be shamed.”
This rings true in light of a 2011 study on prescription usage in the US which revealed that one in four women in the US take some sort of prescribed medication to treat mental illness—that’s 12 million women. And yet, a large percentage of those are still not talking about their issues.2
An enlightening 2015 Christianity Today article titled, Depression: The Church’s Best Kept Secret, shines a spotlight on the lack of support that generally exists in the church regarding mental health. In the article, Dr. Archibald Hart, a licensed psychologist and senior professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, recalls asking a room full of women attending a seminar on depression, “How many of you are on an antidepressant but have not told your husband?” At least half of them stood up, he says.3
Clearly, the church has a long road ahead toward dispelling the stigma of mental illness but that doesn’t mean there isn’t help and support available right now. If you think you may be suffering from SAD, an important first step is to reach out to a trusted friend or family member. Knowing that there is one person who sees you and knows what you’re going through can be a literal lifesaver.
Scripture reveals that depression has actually been part of the human experience for a long time. But it can be easy for well-versed believers to gloss over the passages because they make us uncomfortable or, on the surface, they seem irrelevant.
Hannah was “reduced to tears and would not even eat. . . . [She] was in deep anguish, crying bitterly as she prayed to the Lord.” (1 Samuel 1:7, 10)
Elijah asked God to take his life. (1 Kings 19:4)
Job described his life as ebbing away. “Depression haunts my days,” he said. “At night my bones are filled with pain, which gnaws at me relentlessly” (Job 30:16–17).
The human condition is not a surprise to God. There are real physiological changes that occur in the brain when depression begins to take hold. If a loved one had a broken leg, you wouldn’t hesitate to seek medical help. By the same token, depression should not be minimized as something that will pass.
What exactly is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a specifier—or subtype—of major depression. People with this type of disorder commonly experience symptoms during the fall and winter months. During the lighter and warmer spring and summer months, the depression often goes into remission.
Though researchers haven’t pinpointed the specific cause of SAD, we do know that several factors may come into play:
The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may cause winter-onset SAD. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and circadian rhythms, leading to feelings of depression.
Reduced sunlight may cause a drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, which may trigger depression.
The change in season can also disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
SAD appears to be more common among people who live far north or far south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter or, conversely, unnaturally long days during the summer, which impacts the internal body clock.
If you are suffering from SAD, there are a number of things you can do to change the trajectory of your mental health. First of all, talk to your doctor, he or she can help rule out any other possible causes for your symptoms, such as thyroid problems.
What are some of the symptoms?
Not everyone will experience all the symptoms listed, but if more than one of these resonate with you, you might want to consider looking into some treatment options.
- * Sleep problems – usually oversleeping and difficulty staying awake but in some cases disturbed sleep and early morning waking
- * Lethargy – lacking in energy and unable to carry out normal routine due to fatigue. Heaviness in the arms and legs
- * Overeating – craving for carbohydrates and sweet foods, which usually leads to weight gain
- * Depression – feeling sad, low and weepy, a failure, sometimes hopeless and despairing
- * Apathy – loss of motivation and ability to concentrate
- * Social problems – irritability and withdrawal from social situations, not wanting to see friends
- * Anxiety – feeling tense and unable to cope with stress
- * Loss of interest in normally pleasurable activities
- * Loss of libido – decreased interest in sex and physical contact
- * Weakened immune system – vulnerability to catching winter colds and flu
- * Mood changes – for some people bursts of over-activity and cheerfulness (known as hypo-mania) in spring and autumn.
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Common treatments for SAD include:
Daily exposure a special light for roughly 30 minutes has proven very effective. The light mimics natural sunlight and can effect brain chemicals that improve mood and relieve symptoms. Sixty to 80 per cent of people with SAD find significant relief from light therapy. Make sure you talk to a medical professional about obtaining the right type of lamp.
If symptoms are particularly intense, medication might be the best course of treatment. Different kinds of medications work in different ways, so it’s important to discuss with your doctor which is the right type for you.
Counselling (or Talk Therapy).
Working with a counsellor can be very effective in identifying possible triggers for depression, as well as teaching skills to help break negative patterns associated with depression. Altering thoughts, attitudes and actions that perpetuate negative patterns is instrumental in bringing about change. Counselling has proven to be beneficial alongside other treatments and medication.
Low energy and mood often means that there are only so many resources to go around. And, for many women, these are often spent on kids and family, which leaves very little left for self-care.
The Catch 22 is that regular exercise, a healthy diet, good sleep habits, managing stress and staying connected to others are all an important part of navigating SAD in one piece. A good church community can also come alongside if they recognize the wisdom in encouraging these things along with meditation, prayer, and Scripture contemplation.
According to Dr. Hart, “there’s a healthy and healing synchronization that occurs when we realize that our bodies, emotions, and beliefs aren’t separate entities but all play an integrated role in shaping who we are. While the condition of our faith may not play a role in the onset of depression, it is certainly vital in treating it.”4
- http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/women-and- prescription-drug-use_n_1098023
What does the bible say about hope?
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NLT)
“You, LORD, are my lamp; the LORD turns my darkness into light.” (2 Samuel 22:29)
“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.” (Psalm 40:1-3)
“But those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:31)
“He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
Janine Dilger is a Canadian writer who loves Jesus, her family, and a steaming mug of coffee in a quiet kitchen before the day begins. God wired her with an eye for beauty: nature, art, photography, design and words—these things whisper refreshment into her soul. She is as broken as they come and has way more questions than answers. But after a life’s worth of hard lessons, she is realizing the trick is to just keep her feet moving. To that end, she’s doing her best at navigating the twists and turns of this life with faith, hope and humour. You can Janine blogging about her journey at janinedilger.com