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Effects of Climate on Depression by Dr. Sheetal Bidkar

dr. sheetal bidkar-climate-depression
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Omkar, a 20-years old MBA student, came to clinic with his father. Extraordinarily brilliant yet soft-spoken and introverted boy got admission for MS course in Germany. He is goal-oriented and emotionally prepared to go out of the country. While pursuing engineering before his MBA, he adjusted very well to hostel life without his parents.

But this time when he went to Germany within two days, he experienced the following signs: feeling extremely sad, unprovoked crying bouts, lack of will to do anything and felt he must go back to India as studying here is not his cup of tea.

Well, parents and Omkar both felt that he was homesick and thus decided to visit home and go to the campus after ten to fifteen days gap. Immediately after coming to India Omkar to his surprise was feeling entirely healthy, motivated and the mood was also fine. Instead of fifteen days, he decided to fly back in five days. He reached to Germany, and the similar feelings and symptoms returned. He was crying the whole day, unwilling to do anything, feeling worthless and hopeless, negative thoughts bombarded his mind, and he had difficulty falling asleep.  Well, this time he was hesitant to tell his parents that he wants to come back home. He tried to manage with the help of roommates but couldn’t. As a result, he went back again. His family was upset with his decision of running back home. No one was able to understand why this well-adjusted and mature child, was facing difficulty in pursuing his degree in his dream college.

When he came to Suasth One Step clinic, Psychologist assessed him and told him this is not because of his inability to cope up with a new environment nor was it due to his immaturity or impulsiveness but primarily it is because of the season effect.

Why was Omkar Suffering?

Omkar had never been to any cold countries before. Life, outside of India, especially in European countries is much slower, and the pace of life slows down even more in the cold season. Winter is a recorded as laziest period of the year. So, we deduced that Omkar was suffering from the Seasonal affect disorder (SAD). SAD is a category of depression that appears in particular seasonal conditions. Mostly in the cold season, many people suffer from SAD symptoms. Many people begin to recognize symptoms of SAD in the fall and it just gets worse in the winter months. However, some people even experience the same in the months of summer and spring.

How to identify symptoms of SAD?

Persons with the winter version of SAD might also notice the following unique symptoms:

  • Heaviness in arms and legs
  • Frequent oversleeping
  • Cravings for carbohydrates/weight gain
  • Relationship problems

Symptoms specific to summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Agitation or anxiety

Causes

What really causes, and triggers SAD remains elusive, i.e. it is still unknown. Some known triggers that be responsible are:

  • The Circadian rhythm. It is your biological clock.  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 lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. The decreased serotonin level or a drop in this chemical in the brain (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might contribute in SAD. Living in countries with reduced sunlight can cause drop-in serotonin and it may also trigger depression.

Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

When to ask help from a doctor?

Asking help is depends on identifying the symptoms at the early stage. If the above mention symptoms are disturbing your normal life then never hesitate to reach out to a professional. Sometimes you notice major shifts in sleeping or eating, you are withdrawing socially, or the activities that usually boost your mood don’t work, then it’s time to pick up your phone. Seek immediate help if you are using alcohol to manage symptoms or you are experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Intervention:

It always better to think and take a holistic approach to treatment. Medication, life skills improvement, Light therapy and self-help techniques are helpful. There is no one-size-fits-all treatment. Here are a few options to explore with your doctor.

  • Pharmacotherapy – Medicine is proven to be effective. Antidepressants category of medicine is proven to be effective for people with SAD, especially those with intense symptoms. Medication requires long-term treatment it could be from few weeks to few months. It’s also important not to stop taking the medication if you feel better. Consult with your doctor before you change your dosage, and let him or her know if you experience any side effects.
  • Psychotherapy – a Psychologist, can help those with SAD. A psychotherapist can help you identify patterns in negative thinking and behaviour that impact depression, learn positive ways of coping with symptoms, and institute relaxation techniques that can help you restore lost energy. Long-term recovery requires practising recovery activities designed for you. Lifestyle modification, activity planning, dealing with thinking errors and relapse prevention is the key to successful recovery.
  • Light therapy – Phototherapy is an effective and important form of treatment. It involves exposing oneself to light via a lamp or a special light box. The light produced is like the effects of a natural light. It helps to trigger chemicals in your brain that help regulate your mood. This treatment has proven to be useful especially for those who experience the winter version of SAD. Don’t make an impulse buy on the Internet though, as essential to consult with your doctor first. You want to make sure you’ve purchased an effective and safe device.

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