Spring of 2017 is upon us! Flowers are starting to bloom, T-Shirts and shorts are being pulled out of closet hiding, and sunlight hours are longer. This is so great, right? Well, for individuals who suffer from chronic mental health issues, Springtime can mean an increase in symptoms of depression, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. In fact, according to various psychological sources, including http://www.psychologytoday.com, springtime and summertime are the most common months during which suicide is likely to occur.
Springtime blues – Why does this occur?:
Dr. Burton describes in his article on http://www.psychologytoday.com, entitled “Is Suicide More Common at Christmastime?” how suicide attempts are most likely to occur during warmer months. This may seem baffling. You might be thinking, “But it’s warm and sunny, why would people be sad?” Well, simply put, it may come down to the seasons. Known in the mental health field there exists a controversial condition called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” a type of depression in which individuals experience markedly lower mood, higher senses of hopelessness, and lower levels of energy during winter months. Quite literally, the symptoms ebb and flow with the seasons. Met with the colder times of year, individuals may feel paralyzed by their moodiness, having thoughts of suicide, but little motivation to act on them.
However, as Springtime rolls around and energy levels increase by virtue of the warmer weather, individuals who are chronically depressed may have more energy and motivation to attempt suicide. That is partly why most suicide attempts occur in the month of April. For those of us who experience year-round depression, whose symptoms drastically worsen during spring time, it is important to understand this phenomenon and take efforts to prevent the worst from happening as April approaches.
The Importance of Self-Care:
I have worked with many clients with Seasonal Affective Disorder of all ages. I have noticed their physical and emotional presentations in therapy become dramatically different come March and April in comparison to how they were in the fall. While their energy levels lift, they describe how they are much more likely to respond negatively to a bad day during the Springtime than during the Winter time because they have the energy to care. During the winter, it makes more sense for moods to be low – it’s cold, it’s dreary, it’s a often nuisance. However, in Spring, feelings of depression are still felt, but sunny and warm days tend to make us feel guilty or shameful for having those feelings. Hence, individuals are more likely to act on depressive symptoms. What do we do about this yearly occurrence? I have resolved to encourage individuals to come up with ways to preempt energy bursts to act on possible suicidal ideation by enrolling in exercise classes, recruiting support networks to help them through difficult moments – namely, to find new outlets to channel their increase in “negative” energy.
Myth, Fact, or Somewhere in between?
Some members of the mental health field scoff at the idea of Seasonal Affective Disorder, suggesting it is a myth. While I believe there is some truth to the phenomenon, I find it best to respond to it by encouraging clients and family members to do their best to stay active all year. It is a known fact that exercise and physical activity, in general, dramatically reduces stress and releases endorphins responsible for feelings of happiness or excitement. The problem is that as humans, it is easy to become oriented to routines. If your routine in the winter is to not leave the house or resist exercising, when the weather gets better it will be that much harder to force yourself to go to the gym. Practicing self-care, in the form of exercise, socialization, and maintaining personal interests is key to counteracting potential mood changes as a diurnal shifts. We may need to provide an extra dose of self-care as we anticipate Spring and support those around us in doing the same.