We recently spoke with Mark J. Nowak, Director of Marketing & Public Relations, about depression and seasonal affective disorder.

Does your agency experience an increase in request for mental health services during the holidays?

At BryLin Behavioral Health System, we provide both inpatient and outpatient mental health care. At both locations, BryLin Hospital in Buffalo and the BryLin Behavioral Health Center in Williamsville, we will typically see an increase in the number of people that seek out mental health care after the holiday season. Some studies suggest that as many as 1 in 4 Americans will struggle with some form of depression after the holidays, from a low-grade to full-blown depression, secondary to the possible disappointments from the preceding weeks or months of the season.

Why do people suffer from holiday depression?

Many factors can contribute to “holiday depression” – the inability to be with one’s family and friends, fatigue, unrealistic expectations, financial constraints, the demands of shopping, parties, family reunions, and house guests can all be contributing factors to feelings of anxiety and depression during or after the holiday season.

For 60 years, BryLin has been a trusted name in the Western New York community, providing compassionate mental health treatment and substance abuse care for individuals of all ages. Their individualized care promotes healing, wellness and recovery while respecting the dignity of patients, their families, and others.

What is seasonal affective disorder and how is it treated?

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also known as “winter depression,” is an affective or mood disorder. SAD sufferers usually experience normal mental health throughout most of the year, but experience depressive symptoms in the winter. Seasonal mood variations are believed to be light related. Here in Western New York, because of our long winters, a lack of light or sun exposure and increased cloud cover can contribute to the negative effects of SAD.

“Seasonal affective disorder is essentially characterized by low mood, lethargy and hypersomnia, which is increased sleep. It can decrease pleasure in many different activities and it typically gets better in the spring,” states Dr. Sanjay Gupta, psychiatrist and Medical Director for BryLin Behavioral Health System.

There are many different treatments for seasonal affective disorder, including light therapies and medication. However, the “blue” feeling experienced by SAD sufferers can usually be dampened or extinguished naturally by exercise and increased outdoor activity, particularly on sunny days, resulting in increased solar exposure. However, “symptoms can be so severe, in some individuals, that it often requires hospitalization because of an increased risk of suicide,” says Dr. Gupta.

Connections between human mood, as well as energy levels, and the seasons are well documented, even in healthy individuals. Although symptoms are clues to the diagnosis, not everyone with SAD has the same symptoms. Common symptoms of winter depression include the following:

  • Change in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • A heavy feeling in the legs or arms
  • A drop in energy level
  • Fatigue
  • A tendency to oversleep
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Avoidance of social situations

When several of these symptoms occur at the same time, lasting longer than two weeks, and interfere with ordinary functioning, professional treatment is needed. “If your mood is low, you’re gaining weight, and you’re sleeping more, you should consult with a mental health professional,” advises Dr. Gupta.

For more information on seasonal affective disorder, depression or other mental health related issues, please call BryLin Hospital at (716) 886-8200 or visit www.brylin.com.

What can family members do to help their loved ones?

Anyone can experience mental health problems. Family and friends can make all the difference. If a family member or a friend is suffering from a mental illness (such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, mood disorder, etc.), they may need to seek help.

Call BryLin at (716) 886-8200 to speak with a mental health professional or seek immediate assistance if you think your friend or family member is in danger of harming himself or herself. Or call Crisis Services at (716) 834-3131 or the National Suicide Prevention Line at 1-800-273-8255.