Are You Prepared for Changing Times? Beware of the Darkness

John M. Dabbs

We welcome the end of daylight saving time (most of us) more than when it starts. When Daylight Saving Time ends in the fall, we set out clocks back (for those of us who aren't dependent upon self-adjusting time pieces), and enjoy our bonus hour of sleep. Change in our sleep schedule (patterns) are always difficult - whether they are due to shift work, or other means. For other people, it's the beginning of season depression - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD times

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) typically manifests in late fall and throughout winter. It usually ends as we transition into spring and summer. It is possible to experience SAD during summer, but it is atypical.

Most of those experiencing SAD have symptoms such as:

  • decreased energy
  • social withdrawal
  • feelings of sadness
  • self-loathing
  • general apathy
  • feelings of hopelessness
  • weight and appetite changes
  • increasing sleep and wanting to lay around, or difficulty sleeping
  • suicidal thoughts

SAD typically has a recurring pattern. Typical diagnosis occurs after a patient displays symptoms for at least a two-year period.

Risk Factors

SAD can develop in anyone. Those most likely to develop SAD include women, young people, and those with a history of depression (either personal history, or a family history of depression). Women are reportedly four times as likely to be diagnosed with SAD than men. It's no surprise that the prevalence of SAD increases with distance from the equator.,

SAD Causes

Experts are unable to determine the precise cause of SAD. Preliminary research suggests an deficiency in vitamin D, or an imbalance with serotonin, or melatonin levels. An increase in the serotonin transporter protein has been identified in some patients during winter. Decreased sunlight also increases melatonin in some people, leading to lower levels of vitamin D.

Treatment

Seasonal affective disorder is often treated with light therapy. Sitting in front of a light box for 20-60 minutes daily often improves symptoms of seasonal depression. Other people may require psychotherapy, counseling, or medication alleviate their condition.

Other treatments involve getting enough rest by establishing a standard sleep regimen, coupled with regular exercise on a schedule, can decrease our susceptibility to SAD. All depression, whether seasonal or otherwise, is something you should talk to your doctor about.

Self Awareness

Space, time, and consciousness are equal in our perceptions of life. The daylight hours are dwindling as we continue into Autumn. It is hard for our minds to accept that we continue to have the same amount of time each day to complete our list of taks. The lack of daylight plays tricks on our minds. Less daylight also impacts our perception of life. We become depressed without the light in our lives.

Early man

Early man had only fire to keep him company in the darkness. He discovered its many uses as a tool for cooking, and protection. It is likely he did not fathom the other benefits of fire - other than heat. Fire has become a companion to man. We find comfort in being near it. Sitting around a campfire is comforting, reassuring, and warm. Even when camping in hot weather, when fires are safe to use, they provide comfort.

What is it about fire that allows us to no only watch it, but fall captive to its flames? It is easy to pass the time and contemplate our life, dreams, and possibilities. As the flames lick about the fuel, it is evident - fire is a living breathing thing. It may not have a heart or a soul, yet it seems to become one with us. It not only kindles the our imagination and provides security and warmth.

Fire becomes a companion. Sitting in front of a fireplace sets a different tone than being near a heater, or even a wood stove. Is the inability to see the flame an issue? Without a visual flame, we are less comforted and more lonely than if we have fire visible.

Depression amid the fall

The lack of daylight and interaction with others often plagues some people this time of year. The waning light and cooler days have more people spending time inside. It also leads to loneliness for many without family, or close friends in their inner circle.

It is important to reach out to those who may not see or interact with many people in the darker, cooler months. They need reminding of how they matter, and people do care about them.With our busy lives in these times, it is easy to forget to check in with people we love and care about. This often happens to the shut-ins and family members who may be in nursing homes.

Assisted living facilities and retirement homes are also filled with people. They are out-of-sight, and become out-of-mind. This isn't an intentional happenstance. Many well meaning family members forget to remember them and thus do not call or see them. Some facilities become known for inadequate care and attention of their clientele. Such places are often referred to as "concentration camps for the elderly".

It isn't that they contemplate evil deeds or neglect on their charges, yet it occurs. Occurrences become limited when friends or family members check on the resident. It is the visitor's duty to make noise if they see something out of line, and report it for follow up. It is also their duty to make sure they continue checking on the welfare and conditions for change.

Awareness

The State of Tennessee provides support programs for Mental Health Services. These include crisis hotlines, substance abuse services, and training among others. The Tennessee Crisis Hotline provides a link to someone to listen. They can also provide referral services and other help as needed.

Reach out to the Crisis Hotline at 855-CRISIS-1 (855-274-7471). Those more comfortable texging, or with hearing imparement can text "TN" to 741-741. Mental health services are available around the clock each day, 365 days a year - 24 hours a day.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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