’Tis the season
By Rev Paul N. Papas II
Framingham – One song says Christmas isn’t Christmas until it happens in your heart. Somewhere deep inside you is where Christmas really starts. It is an overflow of the heart that shows on your face and in your actions.
For many people who suffer from seasonal affected disorder (SAD) this time of year is full of recurrent episodes of depression. This seasonal depression usually occurs in late fall and winter with alternating periods of normal or high moods the rest of the year.
Although most people with SAD are women beginning in their early twenties men, children and adolescents have been known to be diagnosed with this form depression.
Parents and teachers are usually the first to suspect this syndrome.
It has been found that many people with SAD have at least one close relative with a medical condition of a mental illness. The most frequent condition reported is a severe depressive disorder (55 percent) or alcohol abuse (34 percent).
Symptoms of winter SAD generally begin in October or November and last until in March or April. For some it starts in August and for some it could last until May.
Depressions are usually mild to moderate, but could be severe. Very few people with SAD require hospitalization and even fewer have been treated with electroconvulsive therapy.
Some signs of winter SAD are oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain.
Additionally, there are the usual features of depression, especially decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal.
Not all sadness or depression at this time of year is due to SAD. Other situations cause sadness and are enhanced at this time festive time of year, such as loosing a job, a loved one or even housing.
One year things weren’t going very well for a family of eight. It was one thing after another. The parents told their six children that it would be a very lean Christmas. There wasn’t enough money for a Christmas dinner never mind gifts for their children who were young.
Five days before Christmas someone put four bags on the porch full of food and S & H Green Stamps. (These stamps were given when food was purchased at a grocery store and redeemable for items at an S & H Green Stamp store. This was a forerunner to today’s rewards programs.)
No one has any idea who left those bags.
However those groceries provided a nutritious, filing Christmas dinner with leftovers for the entire family.
The stamps provided gifts for all. That is the real spirit of Christmas, from the overflow of the heart, where Christmas really begins.
The depression this family experienced before Christmas was relieved by someone with a good heart. Many people feel good when they do good things for other people. People help themselves by helping others.
The first line of treatment for people with SAD is usually light therapy which if properly dosed can produce relief within days. Antidepressants may be needed and if necessary can be used in combination with light. Light therapy can often be inexpensive with common light fixtures.
SAD is often misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections.
Depression should be taken seriously, no matter what the cause. The best advice is seeking medical advice if symptoms persist.
Many times finding a listening ear is all that is needed. We were not meant to be alone. There are times we need time to be alone.
If you see someone that looks a little down, try a smile, a hello and perhaps a word of encouragement.
Let’s spread the real reason for the season, the goodness of a joyful heart. Let’s enjoy the holidays together.
Rev Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries (www.narrowpathministries.org) and current president of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Framingham. NAMI Greater Framingham has support groups for family and friends in Framingham and Uxbridge, and Peer Support Groups in Marlborough and Milford and a Family to Family 12 week Education Course in Framingham and various Education Meetings.