Seasonal depression is a serious mental health condition that affects millions of Americans each year. The condition results in periods of intense sadness between late fall and early spring, and it can have a range of harmful effects on a person’s professional and personal relationships. Fortunately, with treatment, people can learn to manage symptoms of seasonal depression and improve their mental health.
In addition to facing seasonal depression, many Americans also face additional mental health challenges from COVID-19 related stress. This year, the pandemic has resulted in many changes in people’s lives, and it has resulted in a lot of loss and suffering. The effects of the pandemic can be particularly harmful to one’s mental health, and they can reinforce symptoms of seasonal depression.
Below, we detail seasonal depression and the condition’s common symptoms. We then describe the ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s mental health. Next, we cover how the effects of seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress can interact with each other. Lastly, we share actions people can take to manage their mental health and ways to access treatment from behavioral health professionals.
What is seasonal depression?
Seasonal depression is a form of major depressive disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders labels seasonal depression as “Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.” Some people refer to seasonal depression as “holiday depression.” Most people who suffer from seasonal depression experience symptoms from late fall until early spring. Clinicians believe that this seasonal pattern occurs due to people having less sun exposure and time outside during the winter months.
As a form of major depressive disorder, the main symptom of seasonal depression is intense sadness. However, people often also experience a range of other symptoms when they suffer from seasonal depression. These symptoms include:
- Losing interest in activities one previously enjoyed.
- Self-isolating behavior and disinterest in social interaction.
- Changes to sleep and eating patterns.
- Weight gain or weight loss.
- Low energy and a loss of motivation.
- Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness.
- Suicidal ideation.
The above list of symptoms is not a comprehensive list of seasonal depression symptoms, and people experience seasonal depression differently. In some cases, it may be hard to identify that a person is exhibiting any of the above symptoms.
Some people who suffer from seasonal depression may also start abusing substances. These people may engage in substance abuse in an attempt to cope with their depression. Unfortunately, substance abuse typically makes seasonal depression worse and only provides temporary, superficial respite. People who suffer from seasonal depression and substance abuse issues simultaneously have a “dual-diagnosis,” and specialized treatment is available.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted people’s mental health?
The far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic came as a surprise to most people. Social distancing, lockdowns, and masks became a part of everyday life in a matter of weeks. Despite these public health precautions, millions of people have developed infections, and hundreds of thousands of people have died in the US.
In addition to the lifestyle changes and the physical impacts of COVID-19, the pandemic has resulted in many challenges to people’s mental health. These mental health challenges include:
- Loneliness due to social distancing and lockdowns.
- Fear regarding one’s health and the health of loved ones.
- Anxiety regarding one’s financial well-being and job security.
- Increased drug and alcohol abuse.
- Difficulty concentrating.
These mental health effects can be particularly damaging due to the prolonged nature of the pandemic. Some people refer to these effects as “COVID depression.” People have had to deal with the impacts of COVID-19 for almost a year, and it appears that the pandemic will be around for several more months.
How seasonal depression and COVID-19 can have a combined impact
During the 2020-2021 winter season, many people will face the seasonal depression and the mental health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic simultaneously. Each phenomenon alone can be extremely challenging to one’s mental health, and dealing with each issue together can be overwhelming.
The effects of seasonal depression and the COVID-19 pandemic can combine and reinforce each other. Examples include:
- Social distancing and lockdowns reinforcing a depressed person’s self-isolating behavior.
- Pandemic-induced stress causing a person with a dual-diagnosis to engage in additional substance abuse.
- Pandemic-induced layoffs causing a depressed person to experience a further loss of motivation and low energy.
- Adjustments to daily routines impacting a depressed person’s changes in sleeping and eating patterns.
These combined impacts can make recovering from seasonal depression and improving one’s mental health very difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some people who may have previously been able to self-manage their seasonal depression may need to seek help from behavioral health professionals to cope with additional pandemic-related stressors.
How to combat seasonal depression during the COVID-19 pandemic
People who suffer from seasonal depression and COVID-19 may feel overwhelmed this season. That experience is entirely understandable, and many people are having similar experiences with their mental health this year. However, it is important to note that treatment is available, and people do have options to help improve their mental well-being.
For some people, various at-home actions may be sufficient for managing one’s symptoms from seasonal depression and COVID-19 stress. These actions emphasize self-care and help people prioritize their mental health needs among other demands in their lives. These actions include:
- Exercising every day for at least thirty minutes.
- Getting enough sleep each night.
- Limiting alcohol and tobacco use.
- Dedicating time to social interaction. This year, social interaction can be virtual.
- Taking time to enjoy hobbies and leisure activities.
While the above actions may help some people, other people may need additional assistance with managing their mental health. People can access care from experienced mental health professionals through behavioral health treatment programs.
Our clinical team at Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital offers a range of behavioral health treatment programs for people who suffer from seasonal depression and COVID-19 mental health impacts. We offer adult inpatient programs and outpatient services, including partial hospitalization programs (PHPs) and intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). During treatment, our team helps patients identify and manage the behavioral patterns that contribute to their symptoms.
Getting started at Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital
If you or a loved one suffers from a mental health condition and may need the help of behavioral health professionals, contact us online or call us directly at (877) 717-0085. Our team has decades of experience helping people improve their mental health, and we understand the significant impact that the COVID-19 pandemic can have on a person’s well-being.
When you contact us, a team member can help answer any questions you may have about our programs and behavioral health hospital. Also, we can help schedule you or a loved one for a free mental health assessment.