“It’s the most wonderful time of the year.” For many the holiday season ushers in excitment around family gatherings and traditions; however for many others those same thoughts bring reminders of loss, traumatic experiences, grief and seasonal depression.
When working with this population it is important to support clients in managing their symptoms. Clients who struggle with low or moderate levels of depression often decompensate to becoming severely depressed during the holiday season. Helping clients to anticipate and visualize the difficult moments or events that they may face during the holiday season and working them to develop coping strategies for getting through them is an invaluable intervention. Often clients will be empowered to move through those difficult moments with more confidence as they can use those coping strategies to help get through them.
For other clients, overwhelming female, seasonal depression has nothing to due with loss or trauma and may be related to their body’s natural chemical makeup. According to the Mayo Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be caused when reduced levels of sunlight interrupt the body’s internal clock or “ circadian rhythm” and create feelings of depression. Other causes include a disruption in Melatonin levels caused by the change of seasons as well as a drop in Serotonin levels which can result from reduced amounts of sunlight. The most common treatment for SAD is light therapy, psychotherapy and medication in some combination. More information about SAD can be found on the Mayo Clinic’s website at the following link http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195.
Whatever the form, seasonal depression is no less debilitating or dangerous than depression at any other time of year; many would argue the very opposite. As many agencies close around the holidays, leaving clients with less access to their clinicians, it is all the more important to start working with them early on their coping strategies. Make sure they are compliant with their medication and that they have enough refills to get them though to their next medication management appointments. Preparation and helping to manage clients’ expectations can be surprisigly effective in helping depressed clients make it through the holiday season closer to their baseline levels of functioning rather than in the hospital. For many of the clients that we work with that’s a huge win.