Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) also known as seasonal or winter depression affects millions of Americans each year, and the condition can have a range of harmful impacts on one's mental health. Most cases of seasonal depression occur during the winter months, and this year, seasonal depression overlaps with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The article below covers the effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 on people's mental health. We also cover how seasonal depression and COVID-19 combined can have intertwined effects that reinforce each other. Lastly, we describe how people who suffer from seasonal depression can learn to manage their symptoms better and, if needed, access professional behavioral health programs.
What are the effects of seasonal depression?
While some cases of seasonal depression occur over the summer months, most cases of seasonal depression begin in the late fall and continue until early spring. Some people call seasonal depression “winter depression.” The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) considers seasonal depression to be a form of major depressive disorder. The DSM labels the condition as "Major Depressive Disorder with a Seasonal Pattern." Accordingly, the hallmark symptom of seasonal depression is a period of persistent sadness, and other symptoms include:
- A loss of interest in one's hobbies.
- Low energy and a lack of motivation.
- Self-isolating behavior and decreased social interaction.
- Mood Changes - increased irritability and feeling agitated constantly.
- Feeling hopeless and feeling unable to change one's situation.
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt.
- Changes in sleep and eating patterns.
While the above symptoms are common among people facing seasonal depression, people experience seasonal depression differently, and each case is unique. In addition to causing the above symptoms, seasonal depression can also cause people to engage in substance abuse. People who suffer from seasonal depression may start abusing drugs and alcohol in an attempt to cope with their symptoms. This behavior can lead to challenging issues with addiction and chemical dependency.
What are the effects of COVID-19 on mental health?
The pandemic was certainly a curveball this year, and the effects of the pandemic have changed the lives of many people drastically. People have lost their jobs, businesses have closed, school schedules have shifted, and people have faced a lot of uncertainty since the early spring. This environment and the consequences of COVID-19 have led many people to experience:
- Worry about their financial situations.
- An increase in alcohol use.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Fear regarding one's health and the health of loved ones.
The above impacts of COVID-19 can be extremely taxing on a person's mental health, and some people refer to the impact of COVID-19 on mental health as “COVID depression.” In addition to being sources of stress and anxiety, the above issues can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, including seasonal depression.
How do seasonal depression and COVID-19 have a combined impact on mental health?
In addition to having effects individually, seasonal depression and COVID-19 can have combined impacts that reinforce each other. People who may otherwise be able to manage each phenomenon's mental health impacts individually may feel overwhelmed and unable to cope this year. Examples of the combined effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 include:
- Social distancing and lockdowns reinforcing self-isolating behavior.
- Worrying about finances or losing employment causing people to feel hopeless.
- Routine changes from the pandemic causing additional impacts on sleeping and eating patterns.
- Combined depression and pandemic-induced stress leading to increased substance abuse.
For many people, the combined effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 may be too much to handle, and these individuals must take action to get in control of their mental health. They can do so with a variety of self-care habits or by enrolling in behavioral health programs with licensed professionals.
How to combat seasonal depression and cope with symptoms
To cope with the effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19, one can take several practical actions at home. These actions help people adhere to self-care practices, and they are easy to take in one-off instances. However, the challenging part is implementing these actions consistently. Actions include:
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet.
- Ensuring that one gets enough sleep each night.
- Connecting with people you love and trust (even virtually!).
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco intake.
- Maintaining good hygiene.
- Taking time for leisure activities and hobbies.
While the above actions can be helpful for people who are suffering from seasonal depression and the mental health impacts of COVID-19, some people need additional attention. People who face mental health conditions and cannot find relief on their own may benefit from behavioral health treatment programs.
Our clinical team at Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital offers a range of behavioral health treatment programs that can help people address symptoms of seasonal depression and COVID-19. During each program, patients participate in individual therapy and group therapy sessions and work to improve their mental well-being. Our team has decades of experience helping people overcome the symptoms of seasonal depression, and we have tailored this year's programs to address the unique challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our programs at Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital include inpatient adult psychiatric care and outpatient treatment services. Our outpatient programs include partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient treatment (IOPs). Each program allows patients to access the treatment they need while being able to return home after treatment sessions. For patients who have exhausted talk-therapy and medication-based therapies, we also offer electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) programs. Electroconvulsive treatment is a safe and effective treatment for treating long-term depression, and it may be the best choice in some situations.
We also offer programs for substance abuse and chemical dependency. People may start abusing drugs and alcohol to cope with seasonal depression or COVID-19 stress, and this behavior can escalate into severe cases of addiction and chemical dependency. Our chemical dependency treatments include inpatient detoxification and 24/7 monitoring by medical professionals.
Accessing treatment at Houston Behavioral Health Hospital
People who are unable to cope with seasonal depression and stress from COVID-19 can improve their mental health. They do not have to accept their symptoms as an ongoing part of life, and evidence-based treatments are often effective. For many mental health conditions, including seasonal depression, symptoms only worsen over time without treatment, and people must get the help they need as soon as possible.
To get started, you can reach out to our team at Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital by contacting us online or calling us directly at (832) 834-7710. When you contact us, a team member can help answer any questions you may have about our mental health programs.
Additionally, a team member can help schedule you or a loved one for a free mental health assessment. With the results of a free mental health assessment, a member of our clinical team can make treatment program recommendations. At Houston Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, we tailor our programs to fit each patient's unique mental health needs.