What It’s Like To Cope With Depression That Only Lasts Through Winter

Posted by Arun Budhathoki in #LetsTalk, Mental Health
April 6, 2017
This story is in response to Youth Ki Awaaz’s topic for this week – #LetsTalk to start a conversation on the stigma around depression. If you have an opinion or personal story of dealing with or helping someone else deal with depression or suicidal thoughts, write to us here.

I know a writer friend, who is younger than me and suffers from depression. I have always been telling him to remain positive and not let negative thoughts bring him down. I have been in his situation and I am not sure if he realises or not that study says around 4 to 6 percent of people suffer from winter depression, whereas another 10 to 20 percent may be living with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). The irony about SAD is that research has shown that only those who are above the twenties suffer from it. So what is SAD?

SAD is a kind of mild depression that usually triggers at the beginning of winter and lasts until the start of summer. Not many of us realise it but I am pretty sure few have experienced it already: the lethargic feeling of melancholy and strange sad vibes within you. Technically one cannot explain why a person looks so sad and depressed during winter compared to sunny summer. My friends have asked me this question several times when I lived in cold Northern parts of Canada: why do you look so sad always? It was of course due to lack of sunlight.

Canada is pretty cold compared to Nepal as the temperature goes to -20 to -30 from January and the winter lasts for nearly six months with minimum sunshine and heavy snowfall. This week, Fredericton, the city where I spent two years, saw 25cm snowfall. Those who live in Kathmandu have no idea how much snow that is. It covers up the streets, cars, and at times snowfall is so heavy some houses are engulfed by snow. In such severe temperature, I couldn’t deal with my SAD as I suffered from cabin fever too. Even in Kathmandu, I know people who stay in their house for the fear of cold outside. When that happens you develop a fever that makes you stay within the house and you start getting depressed. So how to deal with SAD?

You will know you are suffering from SAD from following reasons: change in appetite, weight gain, fatigue, oversleeping (insomnia), getting irritated for no reason, shutting yourself from social meetings and sensitive to social interactions. The only way to treat SAD or winter depression is light. Yes, if not sunlight, then one should seek for temporary lights. Light therapy is the best thing to do for this kind of depression but luckily we get enough sunlight in Kathmandu. So one should go out and bask in the lovely sunshine. Whereas, in countries like Canada and Nordic regions, there’s rarely load shedding so people go for light therapy at their homes or community centers. And few do winter sports—unlike me, as I wasn’t familiar with it, and I simply hated the idea of stepping on snowy roads. Even while walking you have to walk like a penguin as the roads are icy slippery. That made me depressed too as I started to miss how I walked in Kathmandu. Also, if light therapy doesn’t work, one should consider going for counselling and medicinal therapy.

I must be honest that I have encountered a lot of people here in Kathmandu who seem to be suffering from SAD and maybe are not aware of it. One shouldn’t be ashamed that they have SAD but should acknowledge it and work on having the treatment. I confess, I suffer from SAD and I only realised when I went to Canada. I couldn’t figure it out when I lived in another part of the world where it was less cold. I did feel the slight nudge but it never occurred to me that if I didn’t see the sun I’d get depressed. Everyone should be educated about SAD and those who don’t suffer from it should help others rather than merely a question: why are you SAD?

No one likes to be sad in their lives. Therefore, my best suggestion is: enjoy the sunshine, get active, stay positive and if nothing works for you, and if you live in Northern hemisphere—the best thing to do is to live in a sunny country. I did the same because nothing is important than your mental, emotional and physical health. If you are healthy; the world will be healthier for you.

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