Understanding Mental Illness

Studies have shown that a daily routine alleviates feelings of stress, anxiety and other mental health issues. It’s also proven beneficial for those working through addiction, insomnia, and helps give structure to children who may otherwise experience anxiety. Though our daily lives have been upended in recent weeks, this can be a powerful time to establish our priorities through routine.

Here are some reasons why and how routine can enhance your mental wellbeing, as well as some examples to try in your own life.

Ease stress: With so many decisions to be made each day, it can become overwhelming quickly. Having the majority of daily decisions planned in advance can lessen stress. It’s okay to start small with one decision and work up to planning more. Try: Put together your outfit the night before or pack tonight’s leftover dinner as an ready-to-grab lunch for tomorrow.

Provide structure: Children aren’t the only ones who benefit from structure. Even as adults, we perform better when we expect predictable and controllable moments. When our day has a rhythm, we feel grounded and focused. Try: Write down all the things that you need to do during your day. Once these priorities are met, sprinkle in what you want to do.

Better coping skills: When most of our daily tasks are repetitive and expected, it gives us the confidence to make it through our day. This will help to establish better coping skills for life’s curveballs. Try: Allow yourself time each day to process your emotions. Write in a journal, meditate, or express your feelings creatively.  

Forms habits: It takes 21 days to form a habit—why not use a routine as practice? The more consistent you are, the better established your routine will become. Try: Go to bed and wake up at the same times each day. A proper sleep schedule reduces stress, anxiety and gives you the energy to power through your day.

 

Your routine should represent your lifestyle and meet your responsibilities. This means that if waking up at 4am is impossible for you, don’t make yourself do it. Set yourself up for success! With this being said, a daily routine should never feel like a prison. Leave room for flexibility and the opportunity to adapt to life’s changes.

We all rely on each other for support and encouragement. If you are experiencing severe stress or are having difficulty performing day-to-day tasks reach out to a loved one or professional.

 

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Sad red-haired girl

The Emotional Ripple Effect of Someone’s Suicide

I have a tough subject to talk with you about: the extreme and extensive impact of a loved one’s suicide.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on November 20th, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

I have a tough subject to talk with you about: the extreme and extensive impact of a loved one’s suicide.

Suicide is always shockingly sad anytime we hear of it, whether we know the person or not.  When it happens to someone we care about, like our spouse, parent, a brother or sister, a child or teenager, a neighbor, cousin, uncle, aunt, coworker or friend, it knocks the wind out of us, like a punch in the gut.  It is hard enough to lose someone in the normal course of living, but to lose them to suicide is immeasurably hard to grasp.  It is an unexpected ending and our lives are suddenly changed.    

When someone is the one left behind by a suicide they experience so many emotions, unusual circumstances, awkward conversations, and they have so many questions, most of which have no good answers.  If this were to happen to you, here are some things you may experience:

You may have to endure a police investigation. A police investigation can be unsettling, especially when you’re grieving.  The police have to investigate and they are looking for information, but because of the shock and confusion, giving answers may be difficult.  

You may feel confused, forgetful, or exhausted. A typical reaction to traumatic events is to feel confused or forgetful. You may forget to do your usual routines, like eating or brushing your teeth.  You may feel like you can’t think straight.  You may experience extreme exhaustion (as is typical with emotional pain), yet sleep can be elusive.

You may feel abandoned, left alone by someone you thought cared.  You may wonder, “Didn’t they care about me?” and “Why wasn’t my loving them, enough? Why didn’t they come to me?” Children may wonder what they did wrong.

You may be in denial and not believe that this actually happened, and that it was actually a suicide. 

You may feel numb and feel nothing.  You may even think you have gotten over the event.  Then, suddenly, you are living it with intense emotion.

You may have regrets about not having known they were in serious trouble.  Some people present as fine on the outside and are torn-up with despair on the inside.  Sometimes they work really hard to hide these feelings from loved ones.  I have known many people who say “I wear a mask.”

You may feel guilt or responsibility.  “If only I had…” and “If I would have/could have done something, they would still be here.” 

You may be angry.  You may be very angry–at the person (“How could she do this?” “How could he throw away his beautiful life?”) or at those who you feel should have helped (“Why didn’t the doctor/the school/the counselor do something?”) It is no one’s fault, and certainly not yours.

Your faith may be rocked. “How could God let this happen?”

You may feel shame about it and not want it to be public knowledge.  There is stigma which makes us not want to share when we or a loved one struggles with mental illness.  Our society has equated emotional suffering with weakness.

You may feel relief, which often leads to feeling more shame because you do feel relief.  When someone is depressed to the point of suicide it affects everyone around them.  Their depression can make us feel hopeless and anxious.

You may feel depressed, and alone in your grief.

Emerging after someone’s suicide takes time.  It is best to allow yourself time to grieve, to feel what you feel, and to talk about your questions with a counselor, pastor, or a caring friend.  Don’t do it alone.  If you feel depressed, or in spiritual despair, seek help.  If you feel suicidal, seek help. 

This person you have loved was part of your world.  Talk about your loved one by remembering the good times, as well as the bad times.  This can help with healing.  Say their name.  It keeps them alive in your heart.  Eventually you will come to your own acceptance and peace.  Be gentle with yourself.

 

Suicide Hotline:  1-800-273-8255             Maine Crisis Hotline   1-888-568-1112

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Teen Suicide: It’s Not Just Drama

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 5, 2019 by Mary A. Gagnon, LMFT; Health Affiliates Maine

“She’s such a drama queen.”

“All he wants is attention.”

“They’re not serious.”

These words—and others like them—lead to the dangerous belief that a teen who is talking about suicide should be dismissed or, even worse, purposely ignored. Those beliefs can sometimes lead to tragic results.

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face. It’s important to understand this because teens often act without thinking and have little experience in managing their emotions. These are two risk factors for suicide. Other risk factors—mental health issues, poor coping/social skills, perfectionism, unrealistic parental expectations, family conflict, abuse, and more—heighten the risk for teens already struggling to learn how to become adults. 

As adults, it’s easy to brush off a teen’s behavior as “dramatic” or “attention-seeking.” So how can we tell the difference between a teen having a bad day and a teen who needs more support? Look for some of these signs:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Making plans to kill themselves
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future
  • Displaying extreme distress or emotionality (more than is typical for a person their age or for the teen in general)
  • Increase in agitation, irritability, anger (more than is typical, or an extreme change)
  • Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy

What can you do if you suspect that an adolescent is thinking about suicide? First, you show them you care. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them what’s going on in their lives, who their friends are, how their academics are going, how they’re feeling. And if they tell you, listen. Teens know if you’re not being sincere, so don’t make it an interrogation—make it a curious, genuine inquiry. Second, you ask the question—Are you thinking about suicide? Yes, it’s direct, and yes, it’s scary. However, it’s the only way to get the answers you need, and the consequences of not asking could be dire. Don’t worry—you won’t put the idea in their heads. That’s a myth. And third, you get them help. If they say yes, you make sure to connect them with a mental health or medical professional right away, and do not leave them alone. If they say no, it’s still a good idea to help them connect to a mental health professional because even if they aren’t planning to take their own lives, chances are good that they could use some extra support.

One of the major factors in preventing suicide is the presence of caring adults in the lives of teens. Truly, adults can make the difference for adolescents considering suicide. Be the difference. Show you care.

*Credit to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program (www.namimaine.org) for information regarding signs and risk factors for suicide.

Mary Gagnon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Training and Clinical Development Specialist for Health Affiliates Maine.  Mary has worked in private practice as well as a variety of community mental health settings throughout her career.  Her most recent work at Health Affiliates Maine includes oversight of clinicians in private practice and development and facilitation of trainings for schools and conferences throughout the state.  She is also trained to provide Suicide Prevention Awareness sessions for the Maine Suicide Prevention Program.

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Cold Dark Season Has Reader Depressed

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on February 13, 2019 by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine

Question: 

Winter is here and it is a difficult time for me. Between the cold, the dark, and the lack of outdoor time, I get really depressed. I know about SAD and have tried light therapy. I think it helps some but not enough. What other things can I try?

Answer: 

Winter is a difficult time for many.  Some people enjoy winter because they have sports like skiing or snowmobiling, which causes them to look forward to it.  For many of us, winter is to be tolerated.  Some, like you, have the added difficulty where seasonal circumstances, like the lack of light, which affects your mood and leads to depression.  For some, the difficult months come on in February and March due to an accumulated effect of reduced daylight.  You mentioned SAD, which stands for Seasonal Affective Disorder.  SAD can cause depressed mood, social withdrawal, and mental health problems like increased anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts.  

Here are some interventions that can help:

Preplan winter.  As the winter season approaches each year, fill your calendar with activities both social and physical.  Schedule lunch with friends, movie nights, family game and puzzle challenges.  Have a lot of interactions with people you care about.  Social supports and things to look forward to can make the winter seem to go faster.

Bundle up and get out!   Plan to be outside in the morning or the middle of the day whether it is cloudy or sunny.  Daylight helps; try to get out whenever you can.  Some sufferers like to wear yellow lenses which reduce blue light and make everything brighter.

Buddy up with another that may also be troubled by the difficult winter.  You can help motivate each other with physical activity and healthy eating.

Boost up the self-care.  This is the time to focus on your own needs.  Do an inventory of the physical, social, emotional, and spiritual areas of your life.  Are there any needing attention or outlet?  What can you add to bring life into balance? Counselors can help with this.

Use your light therapy every day. Think of it as a daily medication. Start in the fall as the daylight first starts to shorten. Place the light in front of you every morning for a half hour.  Eat breakfast by it or read.  Do it every day.

Plan a winter getaway.  If you have the means, taking a vacation to a sunny climate during winter months can be a real lift.

Check with your doctor.  This problem is likely to come back every year, as long as you live where the days are shorter in the winter.  If you haven’t already, see your doctor for medication, It is best to do this in the early fall so the medication will be at therapeutic levels come the dark months. This will help with the hormone imbalance caused by the lack of light.

Consider vitamin D.  Ask your doctor about this.  People who live in wintery climates often have low levels of vitamin D.  This is the vitamin that is produced in our bodies by sunlight interacting with our skin and has many healthful purposes, including treating and preventing depression.

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine, a mental health and substance abuse treatment agency serving adults, adolescents, children and families. For more information or if you or someone you know needs help, call us at 877-888-4304 or visit our website www.healthaffiliatesmaine.com and click on “Referrals.”

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Hi again! I am back with another blog. I was re-reading my first one “Shame: Managing Stormy Days” the other day and thought it was, “to my surprise” not bad.

I say this not with an ego. I say it as “An Adult Child Of An Alcoholic” who can still slip back to that spot of low self-esteem. Not for long and for sure not as often BUT the feelings don’t change. In that spot, I was quite nervous about my first writings here.

The thought or the fear was…..

“Will I write something worth reading? A thought not new to me. I shared those same feelings with my wife Linda when she first asked me to write our book “Weathering Shame”. Remember when I talked in that first blog about the Lack Of Awareness Around How I Grew Up? I also noted that Growing awareness during the beginning of my “Journey Toward Wellness” helped build successes and to make better choices. All true!

However the biggest change along the way is a growing confidence in myself and that has helped me feel more positive about ME!

I got there by being very aware of both my Strengths & Weaknesses and accepting both. 

 

  • Re-reading my first blog has me feeling that I made several good points that I am really proud of.
  • I have heard and taken in positive feedback from you the public and the folks at “Health Affiliates Maine”.
  • A new habit, replacing the old habit of discounting kind words. That was around how I felt about myself.
  • I am  growing and learning of being able to acknowledge small successes.
  • Being less concerned about what other people think of me including not going to a negative place with it.

The most important change happening is a True Feeling of Self-Worth!

Not being in such a rush to finish tasks. Being a better listener and offering support not solutions and the most important realization..“DON’T BE INVESTED IN THE OUTCOME!” If you have read our book “Weathering Shame” you know how much of a problem I had around these issues. Has it gone away completely? Of course not! But I do feel a strong shift in feelings and my behavior.

So at this point in my journey, I do believe that what I am saying around the issues of Shame and stigma is helping those who hear or read my words to maybe begin sharing their own stories and struggles with someone they trust.

In closing, MY THANKS to those who have thanked me for my role in Health affiliates Maine TV and Radio campaign. The recovery stories being shared by others are amazing and powerful.

ACCEPTANCE IS ONE IMPORTANT STEP ON THE JOURNEY TOWARDS WELLNESS

AuthorKevin Mannix, Weather Forecaster,WCSH 6, NEWS CENTERS and co-author of “Weathering Shame”

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“The oak fought the wind and was broken,
the willow bent when it must and survived.” 

― Robert JordanThe Fires of Heaven

 

Resilience can be described as the process of returning to normal daily functioning or the ability to adapt after being faced with stress, adversity, trauma or tragedy.   Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have.  Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.  There is a, however, a road to resilience that most likely involves much emotional pain and sadness.

Stressful life events can have a substantial impact on brain function and structure. 

Just  hours before my 22nd birthday and being 5 months pregnant, my mother’s heart surgeon presents himself to say “your mother will not make it through her open heart surgery”.  My heart fell to the floor as no doctor had ever predicted this outcome.   My mother was just 44 years old.  “My mother will never see my unborn child”.  This was the thought that remained with me and caused so much emotional pain at that moment and for years to come. It is sometimes insurmountable obstacles that unleash the very best of ourselves.

Even after misfortune, resilient people are blessed with such an outlook that they are able to change course and soldier on. 

They are able to rise from the ashes and become stronger than ever.

My first child was born in April of the next year.  My son was born with a very rare condition called CHARGE Syndrome.  CHARGE is a recognizable pattern of birth defects.  My son is deaf, legally blind, intellectually impaired with many sensory deficits.  My dedication to him spans 27 years and has given me a lifetime of resiliency stories.

Throughout my life, I often have had people say to me “how do you do it?”­­­ 

“What makes you get up in the morning?”  So here I present my own thoughts after pondering that very same question, “why do I continue to feel fulfilled and happy when my life has been interwoven with tragedy many times?”

My husband and I went on to have two healthy daughters and also adopted a deaf child, a son from Hangzhou, China in the year 2000.   In 2002, my husband, father to my four children, died in a tragic car accident.  The pain of losing a husband and father, so young, just 42 years old, was another traumatic event to test all of us in resilience.  I remember my youngest daughter, Emily, much more stoic than her older sister, “mommy, why don’t I cry like Charlotte, I miss daddy but I can’t cry like her”.  It is important to remember we all grieve and reveal emotion differently.  I was able to explain this to her in a very simple way, “your emotions are very much like your dads, he liked to work through his problems in his mind and by doing activities that kept him healthy.  Charlotte, she is just like your mom, we cry and show our emotions very easily, this is just the way we were put together on the inside”.

Individual  characteristics…

…such as optimism – along with behaviors;  active coping, and cognitive reappraisal, can build on one’s ability to weather storms of unpredictability.

Optimism is the expectation for good outcomes and has been consistently associated with the employment of active coping strategies, subjective well-being, physical health and larger and more fulfilling social networks and connections. Relationships that provide care and support, create love and trust, and offer encouragement, both within and outside the family.  Optimists report less hopelessness and helplessness and are less likely to use avoidance as a coping mechanism when under duress.

When raising my children, there were many times that tears represented sadness.  What I remember, is how those tears were short lived.  I always invited others to understand what I was going through and share in my pain.  Due to this vulnerability, I opened myself up to many people who could provide comfort and a message of hope and optimism that could get me through the distressing moment.

When my youngest son was 16, we had endured years of his emotional turmoil.  This unrest – possibly a result of being deaf, abandoned at such a young age and a minority.  I remember a talk from a psychiatrist in an emergency room, he was firm with me “You do not give up on him, he needs you to believe in him now more than ever”.  He went on to say that this is the time that many parents throw in the towel with kids who are behaviorally disruptive.  This doctor was telling me “you’re not done yet” he gave me the confidence to fight the good fight for many more years to come.  He wanted me to stand firmly in optimism.

Active coping using behavioral or psychological techniques utilized to reduce or overcome stress has been linked to resilience in the individual.  Strategies that help us actively process the physical and emotional stress that is part of life.  Talking with friends and family, writing in a journal, shooting hoops, engaging in yoga, joining an art class, these are all considered active coping skills.  Active coping involves thinking, even if it is not about the problem at hand.  Active coping helps one refresh the mind.

I have always been active to maintain my physical health.  I have always tried to reach out and help others in many different capacities, serving on boards, volunteering,  joining committees, taking up legislative issues. It has been important to me to be a good mother, daughter, and friend.  It has helped for me to always be aware that I am more than a person who has much adversity in her life, I am also a person who is blessed with much love in her life.

Cognitive reappraisal is also strongly associated with resilience.  This is the ability to monitor and assess negative thoughts and replace them with more positive ones.  Changing the way one may view events or situations, finding the silver lining in the dark cloud.

I remember friends asking how I reacted when I knew my child was profoundly deaf.  It was such a strange question to me as I was just happy that he was alive and the idea that he would not hear to this day has never been a source of sorrow for me.  It was my ability to see beyond and not become stuck in a labeled disability.  I was able to look at the larger context, how will he communicate with us, researching and educating my own self to the possibilities.

Building resilience does not always come easy. 

Having your own personal experience with hardship is what builds your strength and confidence to conquer what comes your way.  The process of resiliency can also be helped along by good families, schools, communities and social policies that make resilience more likely to occur.  It is important to remember that everyone can develop resilience and the ability to “bounce back” from hardship.

My oldest son is now 27 years old and lives independently with in-home supports.  All of my adult children are now facing their own challenges and building their own strength toward resilience.  My family offers each other encouragement and support as we discover life’s unexpectancies.

“Fall down seven times… get up eight”  
-The happiness institute

 

Author: Terri Thompson, LCPC

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Depression has been called having “the blues”, “feeling down”, “sad” or “in the dumps” but that doesn’t begin to cover what depression is and does. Depression affects the body, mind and spirit.  It can be devastating and life changing. It affects not only the person’s life, but can impact significant others, family members, employment and even the community as well.  It can last for weeks, months or years without treatment and it can end in death by suicide.

Depression is a serious illness.

What causes depression?

Depression has its roots in chemical changes in the brain. There are many factors that can combine to cause depression.  The person’s temperament and personality, early grief and losses, trauma, stressful life events, the change in seasons or any time the body’s internal clock is out-of-sync. Medical problems such as a thyroid imbalance heart attack survivors, immune diseases, cancer, and nutritional deficiencies can also play a part. The presence of persistent pain, women associated with having their premenstrual cycles and some medications and their side effects are all contributing factors. Substance abuse issues and associated withdrawal symptoms can also result in depression.

Genetics plays a part. If someone on either side of the family was depressed there is a better chance that this would be passed on to the next generation.  Depression also affects the brain and is negatively affected by stress.  The more stress and longer the stress occurs, the more the brain and the body is affected.

Are there different types of depression? If so, what are they? 

There are a number of different types of depression. The most common is Major Depressive Disorder which can be mild, moderate, or severe, in partial or full remission.  Other types can include 

  • Persistent Depressive Disorder, known as Dsythymia which occurs for at least two years.
  • Disruptive Mood Dsyregulation Disorder includes temper outbursts with irritability or anger that occur daily and is seen in children between 6-18 years old.
  • Premenstrual Dsyphoric Disorder is associated with the menstrual cycle, starting a week before and ending in the week afterwards. This brings mood swings, crying, irritability and anger, depressive symptoms, tension and anxiety.
  • Substance or Medication Induced Depression associated with taking a substance or medication.
  • Depressive Disorder due to another medical condition. 
  • Specified Depressive Disorder, which is when full criteria cannot be met but most symptoms are present.
  • Unspecified Depressive Disorder. This diagnosis may be made when there is not sufficient information or time to make a specific diagnosis.

In addition, depression can be a symptom of other diagnoses such as Bipolar Disorder, anxiety disorders with depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and sadness, which is not a diagnosis, but a natural part of our existence.

Can depression be prevented? 

Depression is complex. It can’t be prevented for everyone yet, but it can be treated. That is why one pill won’t work the same way for everyone, and why medication usually takes weeks before a change in symptoms is noticed.  For some people taking their medication as prescribed, being proactive when participating in therapy and actively making changes in their lifestyles can greatly reduce symptoms over long periods of time. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has proven to be effective in changing thoughts and feelings that are associated with depression and in helping to identify, and make lifestyle changes that reduce depressive symptoms.

How can we help someone who may be struggling?

The first part is to become aware that there has been a change.  The change includes having a depressed mood, a loss of interest or pleasure and feelings of hopelessness or despair.  Remember, depression can be sneaky.  It can start by a person feeling “off”, more sad than usual, or having low energy, and may be perceived as the onset of a flu or cold when no other flu or cold symptoms appear.

Be aware of changes in routine, difficulty with starting tasks, staying in bed longer, or increased feelings of not caring about anyone or anything.  Family members or friends who notice these symptoms should talk to the person about it and suggest that they get help. 

Above all, don’t ignore the symptoms.  Be patient, encouraging, understanding and support the person who is depressed. Talk to them and, more importantly, listen to them. Encourage them to be more active, don’t push too hard, but continue trying.

Are there resources to seek help?

If there are ever any suicidal thoughts or feelings, the person should immediately call their therapist, doctor, or the crisis hotline 1-888-568-1112.  Above all, if the person is a danger to themselves or others, hospitalization may be necessary.

If the person is not suicidal, a doctor’s appointment can help to determine if there is any physical cause for the depression. Depending on the severity, a psychiatrist or doctor may prescribe antidepressants. This can help reduce depressive symptoms and may be given in combination or alone. If there are any side effects noted, encourage the person to call their doctor and go to their appointments. 

Seeing a therapist or clinician, whether on medications or not, has been proven to be effective in helping reduce symptoms of depression. There are a number of psychotherapies treatments that can help.

Research has shown that getting treatment sooner can relieve symptoms quicker and reduce the length of time of treatment. In other words, try to encourage the person to seek therapy.  For the person that cannot get out of the home there are also telehealth services, so getting therapy is easier than ever. The best thing to do to treat symptoms of depression is to get help as soon as possible.

 

Author: Cynthia Booker-Bingler, LCSW, Health Affiliates Maine

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For some people, the shorter days of the fall and winter months bring with it an increase in depressive symptoms.  This type of depression has been called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It usually impacts people during the change of seasons when there is a decrease in light, and it lessens or stops when the seasons change again, bringing additional light. 

Studies showing the numbers of people with SAD vary from about half a million people (4-6% of the population) up to 10-20% of the population in the U.S.  

Symptoms of SAD include:

  • being sluggish/low energy/ fatigue; reduced sex drive
  • losing interest in activities that once were pleasurable
  • decrease in social interactions
  • experiencing difficulty concentrating
  • sleep problems
  • gaining or losing weight
  • feeling depressed most or all of the day, almost every day
  • feeling worthless or hopeless
  • having frequent thoughts of suicide
  • The symptoms occur for more than two weeks and recur during the same time of year

What Causes SAD?

The exact cause of SAD is still to be determined, however most theories attribute the disorder to the lessening of daylight hours.  This can disrupt circadian rhythms (the body’s internal clock), increases the production of melatonin (causing sleepiness, the body’s way of telling us when it is time to go to bed), and decreases the production of serotonin (which helps to regulate mood).

It’s more prevalent in the northern than southern States.   Not everyone gets treatment for SAD as it is typically attributed to the “winter blues” or “cabin fever” and there is an expectation to just ignore it, endure it or “man up”. 

Now, the good news. SAD can be treated. 

First, if you feel you may have SAD, after looking at the symptoms listed above, it is recommended that you see your doctor to determine whether it is due to a medical cause (i.e.: hypothyroidism or another medical condition) and a therapist to assess if symptoms are due to SAD or another diagnosis (Depression, Bipolar disorder or trauma).  During the therapist’s assessment you might be asked to fill out the Seasonal Pattern Assessment Questionnaire or a depression questionnaire.  These will help determine the cause of your symptoms. 

Next, depending on the symptoms and their severity your doctor may prescribe medication, light therapy and CBT therapy. 

  • Medication: Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) for depressive symptoms.
  • Light box therapy: A prescribed therapy using light to reset circadian/ biological rhythms. Work with your doctor due to changes in length of time, intensity and type of light used.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy – To change the pattern/thoughts/ behaviors leading to the symptoms.

If you are diagnosed with SAD there are a number of things that you can do.

  • Educate yourself and your family about SAD and any treatments.
  • Increase the amount of light you get each day by: going outside, allowing natural light to shine inside, rearranging work areas, going without sunglasses, sitting in the sunshine or next to a window in classrooms, restaurants, and other places.
  • While it is light out, avoid dark areas. This increases the level of melatonin.
  • Exercise outside or facing a window to maximize the amount of sunlight.
  • Be aware of the temperature and dress warmly due to sensitivity to cold.
  • Putting a timer on lights so that the lights go on one half hour or more before awakening. This has made it easier for some people to wake up in the morning.
  • Keep a daily record of energy levels, moods, appetite/weight, sleep times and activities to track biological rhythms.
  • Stay on a regular wake/sleep cycle to increase alertness and decrease fatigue.
  • Postpone making major decisions in your life until the season is over and symptoms abate.
  • Share experiences/treatment with others who have SAD.

For those who are still interested in learning more about SAD please read the following articles:
http://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad.htm

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/07/when-summer-is-depressing/375327/

 

Author: Cynthia Booker-Bingler, LCSW, Health Affiliates Maine

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Sometimes holidays hurt.  The holiday cards and promotions are full of pictures of beautiful families smiling around a fireplace or dinner table.   For some families, the reality doesn’t match that picture.  Family relationships come with history, “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” anything from an unintentional slight, to childhood trauma.  Hurts are the emotional leftovers of life, and when mixed with alcohol, they can turn into not-so-happy holidays.

Holiday celebrations and family gatherings are a good thing.  For many, they are the most important part of the year. Everyone wants “Peace on Earth,” not just for the world, but at home and in our hearts.  If there are emotional leftovers and hurtful words that have affected your family relationships, it is healthy to try to sort it out, and when possible, to make amends.

Everyone wants “Peace on Earth,” not just for the world, but at home and in our hearts. 

First

Own what is yours.   We all make mistakes.  Sometimes, we just hurt people.  It might be out of anger, or, we innocently step on a minefield with our words and actions, unaware of how someone else will interpret them.  

Next

Apologize.  Learning to apologize and take responsibility for our actions takes work and courage.  There are many sites online to help you learn this, using the search word “apology”.   The payoff can mean deeper more loving relationships. 

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you had a heart-wrenching misunderstanding with someone you care deeply about.  You may not have known how to apologize — unsure of what you had done.  In this case, you might to call them saying, “I really value our relationship and I want to fix it, but I don’t know how”.  They may hang up on you or they may allow a conversation to begin.  Just knowing you tried will bring you peace.

Sometimes it takes more than an apology. 

Some hurts run deep and can affect other relationships.  That is when reaching out to a counselor for help can really make a difference in your life.  It takes courage.  Feeling better is worth it.  The holidays come around every year — another chance to make them happy.

 

Author: Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS, Health Affiliates Maine

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That’s a good question isn’t it? Most of the time when people talk about mental health they are talking about mental health treatment or a person who was given a mental health diagnosis, (which is a fancy name for describing what symptoms a person has), but that isn’t what mental health is either.

Mental Health has a lot of different parts. It is our sense of well-being. How we think, how we act and how we feel about ourselves.  It is looking at the complete picture of who you are, what is happening around you and how it does or does not change your thoughts about who you are.  The most important part is that EVERYONE has mental health.  It is a part of who we are as human beings. 

How do we figure out what our mental health is?

Let’s look at the different parts…think of it like a circle with all of these things around it.

circle2Emotions:  Do you spend a lot of time being happy, smiling, laughing?

Your mind:  Are you satisfied, content, at peace with yourself and others? Do you like yourself and who you are?

Your thoughts: Do you think about how happy you are with yourself? Are you proud of yourself?  Do you say to yourself “way to go”, “I am wonderful”, “I am a great person”, “I really did well”, “I did the best that I could and that’s okay” or other thoughts that make you feel worthwhile?

Your Body:  Is your body physically fit? The correct weight?  Does your body feel calm and at ease?  Are you okay with your body?  Is it good enough, pretty/handsome enough? Does it do what you want it to do when you want it to?

Your immediate world:  Do you have family/friends that cheer you up and that you feel you can talk to about anything?  Is everything going well at school/work/your family/your neighborhood?  Do you have beliefs or a religion or go to a church, synagogue, mosque, prayer group or other where you are accepted for who you are?  Do you follow certain beliefs about your culture – learned from your family, by following certain holidays -Christmas, Hannukah, Ramadan,…or by celebrating 4th of July, having a birthday party to celebrate another year of life; being raised to know what foods to eat or not to eat, what clothes to wear, how to talk to others, etc.?

Your greater world:  Are you satisfied how your State or how the government is being run?  With the environment and climate change?   With how your country and other countries deal with each other?  Do you think about this at all? A little?  A lot????

In General:  Do you feel that life is okay or even great!  Do you feel okay with yourself and who you are?  When you do get upset – sad and cry, angry and throw a tantrum or yell or when you are frustrated raise your voice, throw things, hit something or not want anyone to be around you, is it only for short periods of time and then you feel better? As you grow older do you change how you react to others?  Do you feel in control of yourself and your actions?

In the circle, all of these things coming together to change how you feel about yourself, which changes how you behave, which affects your mental health.  The wonderful part is that your mental health changes daily and, if you are not satisfied, you can change. 

So, if you are doing well, can control yourself, talk to others and feel happy with yourself, then your mental health is fine.  If however, you are not and that ongoing worries, are sad or upset most of the time, don’t feel alright with yourself, you are not alone. There are many people that have difficulty with their mental health. A mental health specialist – therapist, counselor can help get you back on track and feeling better about yourself.

 

Author: Cynthia Booker-Bingler, LCSW, Health Affiliates Maine

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