Tag Archives: SAD

Mental Health – Adapting to the Environment

Many people who are aware of their Mental Health will notice that certain environmental changes can trigger their symptoms.

I recently attended a fascinating presentation on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a keen interest of mine.  Some of the discussion was interesting because it highlighted how different attitudes towards mental and physical health.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For those not in the know, SAD is an illness where mental health plummets at a particular point in the year, usually as the days become shorter.  I have written a more detailed piece on the condition which you can read by clicking here.

The event was presented by one of the worlds leading authorities on the subject but became a well managed exchange of experience and views.  One of the attendee’s was interested in the potential of building light therapy into existing light sources.  Light therapy currently requires a sufferer to sit in front of a light for up to 30 minutes.

To be clear, I think this is a great idea.  Anything that can help alleviate suffering without ingesting chemicals can only be a good thing.  What concerned me was some of the rationale that was offered for “needing” this type of product.  “People don’t have 30 minutes to sit in front of a light in the morning”.

Different attitudes

What immediately struck me from this statement is the disparity with which mental health is held next to physical health.  Lets be clear, SAD is not a choice, its a serious debilitating mental illness.  Mental illness is a serious medical complaint.  In certain demographic groups, the mortality from mental illness exceeds that of any other illness.  If we had a physical illness that necessitated 30 minutes of physical therapy a day, we would move heaven and earth to make sure that person received it.  Would we see dialysis or chemotherapy as a choice?  Of course not, nor should we.  So why when the problem is a mental health one do we suddenly feel that we just “don’t have time” for a 30 minute treatment?

This sense that we “don’t have time” is right at the centre of why so many of us struggle with our mental health.  We just don’t take time to care for ourselves.

Sunlight

Adapting to the Environment

I also think we should consider why we flood our world with artificial light as soon as it gets dark.  I believe that in many cases (not all) SAD is not a problem with lack of light but a problem with trying to continue life at the same frantic pace all year round.  Our bodies tell us to slow down but we don’t adapt.

In some species, the behaviours of taking on more fuel (carbohydrate craving is an early symptom of SAD) and resting is part of their seasonal rhythm.  In humans however, our bodies start to change and our instinct is to resist and fight.  We follow the same routines year round to maintain the same levels of productivity.

In an ideal world I would see people following a more seasonal approach to life.  I am however a realist and I know that the western world is going to be a long time bending to this ideal.  If however we continue to invent new ways of ignoring our bodies and circumnavigating basic needs, the mental health crisis thats slowly gripping society can only deepen.

Im glad to say that the majority of attendees at the event agreed. We should be finding ways to secure 30 minutes of our day to attend to our mental health, not more ways of disregarding it.

Where to find help

If you are suffering from mental health problems be assured, you are not alone. There is non judgmental help when you feel able to reach out for it.

To find out more about challenging the stigma of mental illness take a look at Talking FreELY or get in touch with me.

Logo for Talking FreEly, Mental Health Organisation

If you are suffering from mental health problems, be assured, you are not alone. There is non judgmental help when you feel able to reach out for it.

If you are in crisis please consider the following advice from MIND

  • Go to any Accident & Emergency (A&E) department.
  • Call 999 and ask for an ambulance to take you to A&E.
  • Ask someone else to call 999 for you or take you to A&E.

If you need urgent support but don’t want to go to A&E, you could:

  • call Samaritans on freephone 116 123 – they’re always open and are there to listen
  • Call NHS Direct on 111.

Mental Health – Strong for too long?

One of the things I see on social media a lot is this statement

“Depression isn’t a sign you are weak, its a sign you have been strong for too long”

Its a well intentioned way of re-framing how we perceive mental illness but what does it actually mean and is it accurate? For me the language creates some problems!

Firstly, its a bit of a sweeping statement because mental illness is completely arbitrary, affecting people from all walks of life and for any number of different reasons.

What it refers to more specifically is a commonly encountered cause of depression. The curse of modern western society. Stress!

The “strength” to which it refers describes the capacity of a person to cope with stress. In so called “strong” individuals, stress acts as a motivator, an impulse to push harder and harder to overcome the adversity and achieve. When the drive goes beyond the bodies limits there comes a point where it has to break, like any system that is overloaded. At that point depression takes hold.

If you are one of these individuals (its fine by the way, I’m a lot like that myself) you probably feel better knowing that in spite of your mental health, society views you in positive terms as a go-getter. In some cases, it may encourage the perception that mental illness is simply a consequence of normal life if you want to “get on”.

But what if you aren’t “strong”? By implication, if not in actual language, this statement suggests that the opposite, people who fold at the first sign of stress and therefore don’t push their body through the same level of trauma, are unlikely to suffer depression. Apart from this (of course) being absolute rubbish, the implication is that these types of people are “weak” (it is after all the opposite of strong), a term most of us would consider to be an insult. Society after all has little regard for this approach to life.

Am I over analysing? Well certainly if the message that we value strong over weak is not implicitly carried in this statement on mental health, it is one that is heavily implied and indeed replicated across society, particularly in the workplace where I have repeatedly encountered the attitude that “going the extra mile” is pretty much compulsory.

Of course the path you decide to follow in life is an entirely personal choice. Where it becomes problematic is when society guides these choices through negative stereotypes. When people push themselves because they feel that is what is expected, not what they want.

Can a statement intended to make people feel better about themselves really do this? I think it can. I think the stigma of mental illness is driven by thousands of stereotypes, cultural norms and poorly used language. In this example, you could as easily change strong and weak for stupid and wise and tip the entire statement on its head. Language is a powerful tool and tackling what has become accepted norm is a huge challenge. If however we ever hope to have a lasting impact on the merciless onslaught of mental illness its one we have to take on.

It all begins by talking which is why Talking FreELY invest so heavily in facilitating simple and honest conversations about mental health. Because it is these conversations that will drive change.

If you are struggling with mental health there are a number of useful links on the Talking FreELY website. If you want to know how you can help to keep the conversation, check us out on Facebook and Twitter

www.talkingfreely.org

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

AutumnTheres a lot to be grateful for at this time of year.  Abundant freshly harvested food, a cacophony of colours as autumn takes its hold, cosy nights in front of a roaring fire as the nights close in.  For some people the joy is overshadowed by low mood that may have no tangible origin, but simply sits there, like a cloud over their head until the seasons start to tip once again and the longer days draw in.  For those who feel like that, they could well be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a form of depression that follows a seasonal pattern with sufferers experiencing a change in mood depending on the time of year.  The usual onset is in Autumn and Winter when the daylight hours are shorter.  Less commonly this is reversed.

The problem is poorly understood but several theories exist.  From the physiological perspective hormonal anomalies in sufferers may provide some explanation.  Melatonin is a hormone that the body secretes to induce sleep.  Scientific studies, though not yet conclusive, have examined levels of melatonin in SAD sufferers and have found it to be higher during winter months.  Likewise Seratonin, the “feel good hormone” is likely to be found in lower levels.
pexels-photo

It is not known why some people are affected in this way but one theory is that the reduction of daylight during winter months is responsible for the altered hormonal levels.  This is supported by data.  If you live nearer the equator, where daylight hours remain more constant through the year, you are far less likely to suffer from SAD.  This theory carries weight.  In our increasingly evolving world, far less of us work outdoors these days, instead sitting in front of computers staring at false light all day before going home in the dark.  But perhaps the bigger problem is not the amount of light we work in, but the fact that we don’t adapt.  Compare us with certain other mammals who would retreat to hibernation during the winter months.  As the colder months draw in, their bodies tell them its time to slow down and recuperate so they do exactly this.  Humans however continue at the same speed and pace making no changes at all.  If anything on the approach to Christmas we speed up, desperately trying to cram everything in before the end of the year.  In this theory, the adjustment in hormones is in fact entirely normal.  The development of symptoms happens because we don’t respond, the emotional equivalent of running on an already sprained ankle.

The solution in this instance is of course simple.  Hibernate.  If only.  Unfortunately, very few of us are in a position to work less hours during the shorter days so practically speaking, SAD becomes a condition to treat rather than a change we must manage.  So what can we do.

handsWell, firstly, I still recommend getting more rest and slowing down where possible.  Holistically, the key is to treat the source of the problem.  Acupuncture is more than an answer to aches and pains and a number of people seek treatment for a range of health issues including emotional support.  It is also worth considering light therapy for which more scientific evidence is emerging.  This is a simple and relatively cost effective therapy you can control yourself and would work well in support of other treatments.  Its worth researching the subject properly however as the science is quite specific.  Medical evidence has suggested that lights need to emit 10000 lux to be effective.  The light units that conform to this are registered correctly as medical devices.

If you would like to talk to me about how acupuncture could help with your health and well being please email me info@sigristacupuncture.co.uk or call 01353 360 633.  I may be in clinic but if you leave a message I’ll get straight back to you.

If you are considering buying a light therapy box please read do your research.  The SAD.org website provides good clear guidance with appropriate links.  Alternatively, get in touch with me.  www.SAD.org.uk

For more information on SAD including a downloadable leaflet, please follow this link to the MIND website.  www.mind.org.uk

Thank you for reading