Many of us find that our mood and energy levels are affected by the weather: sunnier days tend to lift our mood, while dark days can often make us feel gloomy.
But, for many, this has a more significant impact and can lead to the development of a subtype of clinical depression: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
SAD is a kind of depression that usually begins in the fall when the days get shorter and often lasts throughout the winter months. Official causes are not clear, but it’s thought that because it occurs in winter, it is likely linked to lack of sunlight. However, professionals say that this may not be the whole answer as it’s also thought to run in families: 13–17 per cent of people who develop SAD have an immediate family member with the disorder.
It has been estimated that about 2-3 per cent of Canadians will experience seasonal depression in their lifetime. Another 15 per cent of Canadians will experience a milder form that leaves them only slightly depressed but still able to live their life without major disruptions.
According to CMHA B.C., seasonal depression makes about 10 per cent of all depression cases.
So, perhaps consequently, the Vernon crisis line sees a drastic increase in calls during the winter months. Vernon’s Crisis Line program coordinator Paula Guidi speculates that it’s likely the weather mixed with the stress of the holiday season.
“Vernon crisis line experiences a bump in our calls every December and January and that can happen for a variety of reasons including holiday stress, the lack of sun and then later, in January, the after-effects of the stress often comes,” Guidi said. “Of course we don’t have the numbers for this year but comparing 2017 to 2016, the increase was huge. We had a 25 per cent increase in calls for the crisis line in December 2017 than 2016 at the Vernon branch alone and a bump of 32 per cent last January compared to 2016.”
Vernon is one of five call centres in the Northern Interior. During the month of December 2017, the crisis line took 566 calls. Guidi notes that with the increases in caller demand each season, the need for helpline volunteers also increases.
“So we have a crisis line in Vernon where we are staffed by volunteers and we try really hard to keep that covered for all the shifts the Vernon line is responsible for. We anticipate that every year we’ll see an increase in numbers because it’s a hard time of year, and because of the weather and seasonal depression. The other part is that because there’s an increase in demand for the service, we also see an increased need for volunteers.”
Using Vernon’s crisis line is also a resource open to anyone suffering from depression. To reach the crisis line, call 1-888-353-2273. Anyone interested in volunteering should reach out to the local CMHA office at 250-542-3114 (ext. 236) or apply online at http://vernon.cmha.bc.ca/programs-and-services/crisis-line-volunteer-application/. The crisis line offers 30+ hours of training, the next begins Jan. 29.
Signs and symptoms of SAD can include: feeling depressed most of the day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, low energy, problems with sleeping, changes in your appetite or weight, feeling sluggish or agitated, lost interest in sex and other physical contact, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty, frequent thoughts of death or suicide.