Seasonal Affective Disorder

Cloudy red sunset

When the Sun Sets, the Sadness Rises

Couple more hours ’till 7pm… The sun approaches 5pm and your sadness is thriving. You scratch your head wondering why this repeats year after year. You hate the darkness; it makes the day feel shorter. A shorter day means less time to have fun. Less fun means more isolation. More isolation attracts sadness. Feeling sad means you’re in a rotten state of mind again. And the pattern only continues as fall progresses into winter. Once winter arrives, you pray that you can see spring again; or at least people with seasonal affective disorder do.

The key to avoiding sadness is learning how to be positive regardless of changes in your environment. You don’t have control over what happens around you, but you have control over your mind. It’s when you lose control of your mind that you become most susceptible to outside forces. And when this happens, you become an easy target. In this case, time is the outside force. As fall approaches, it gets darker out earlier in the evening. When winter arrives, 4:20pm becomes your last hit before the darkness settles in at 5pm.

So What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD is a depressive disorder that causes people to become sad during seasons with shorter daylight hours. In addition, less sunlight during the winter months also contributes to symptoms such as fatigue, sadness, weight gain, loss of interest in activities, etc. The most common months to experience SAD are January and February. Other symptoms may include:

  • Craving carbohydrates
  • Hypersomnia
  • Loss of energy
  • Pacing and the inability to sit still
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Suicidal thoughts

The disorder usually starts between the ages of 18 and 30. Treatment involves light therapy, antidepressants and/or psychotherapy. SAD goes away during spring and summer, but therapy and medications help alleviate the symptoms sooner. Seasonal affective disorder occurs due to a biochemical imbalance in your brain, believed to be caused by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight. It’s unknown why some people experience SAD and others do not. It definitely does not help if you live in a location that lacks sufficient sunny days during the year.

What is your experience with SAD? If any, what have you found to be helpful?

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Talking About Mental Health

Planet Zer0

Imagine a world where mental health does not exist; let’s call it Planet 0. In this society, there is no recognition of depression, anxiety, psychosis, eating disorders, ADHD, tic disorders, drug addiction, etc. If you suffer from a disorder of the mind, you are considered “weird,” “abnormal,” “strange” or “other-worldly.” In this world, if you have a mental illness, you are ostracized from society; you have to find your way back home because you are not getting into this circle. In this world, talking about mental health is not an option.

Talking About Mental Health is Not an Option

People who commit suicide are viewed as weak; “he would have never made it anyways” is the mentality. Drug addicts are considered the scum of the earth on Planet 0. Suffering or even worse, dying, is celebrated by the masses. Psychotic people are one of the most feared and despised. Governments all around the world are considering passing a law to allow citizens to shoot at a psychotic person if they feel threatened.

Essentially, humanity on Planet 0 does not want to have anything to do with mental health. If you are feeling down, your family warns you to get yourself together. Your friends start to lose interest in you if you’re suffering from anxiety. If you are feeling insecure, your significant other is expected to leave you. If you are hallucinating, society no longer knows of you. Psychiatric medications are for lab rats. If you’re even heard of having some medications in your home, your landlord has the right by law to evict you.

In this society, people prefer to be free of mental illness, but do not want to address it. The stigma of mental health is sky-high. Laws are being considered to prevent pharmaceutical companies from creating psychiatric medications. Pharmacies are considering banning psychiatric medications. The suicide rate is on the rise and over 60% of the population is depressed. But society doesn’t care. They view mental illness as a plague and want to wash it off the face of the hearth.

Why do we talk about mental health?

So we can avoid experiencing any sort of stigma that slightly touches or resembles Planet 0.

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How To Open Up About Your Mental Health

In therapy, the psychiatrist can only help you as much as you want to be helped. But there are ways on how to open up about your mental health without feeling ashamed. It’s very important to find that comfort zone and open up about your symptoms. When you open up, it makes easier for your doctor to better understand you. Withholding your symptoms will only delay the process to your mental health recovery and you will suffer more in return. Find a psychiatrist who makes you feel comfortable and divulge to them everything going on in your mind. Your doctor can’t wait to help you but you have to want to help yourself as well.

How To Open Up About Your Mental Health: Finding Trustworthy People

Finding trustworthy people can be a challenge. Trustworthy people should make you feel comfortable enough to share anything with, including your mental health problems. The problem is that the mental health stigma is still alive and many people are afraid to open up. They are ashamed of their symptoms, believing that they will be judged and ridiculed if they divulge them. The fear of being judged makes them keep their struggles a secret, worsening their symptoms in return.

It takes courage to come out about your mental health symptoms in the same way that it takes courage for gay people to come out. But once you do it, you’ll immediately feel better because you’ll feel a great weight come off your shoulders. It’s very therapeutic to share with others what you’re going through. It makes you feel like you’re being heard and no longer isolated inside your world. If you prefer a professional to talk about your mental health symptoms with, then even better! But you never want to be ashamed of talking to someone about your symptoms. Take that initial leap of faith that things will work out and the rest of your journey should hopefully become easier.

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Isolation and Depression

Some of us never felt isolated prior to the pandemic while many of us became even more isolated during this time. Either way, isolation is a breeding ground for mental illness. Three ways of dealing with isolation and depression include going outside, socializing and exercising. While it may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at how many people avoid taking advantage of being outdoors, socializing more in person or exercising to improve their physical and mental health.

Isolation and Depression: The Solution

Start off by spending more time outdoors. When people are depressed, they tend to isolate in their home and lose interest in the outside world. This is exactly what the illness wants you to do, but there is nothing good about it. To counteract this urge to isolate and become even more depressed, force yourself to spend time outdoors. Something as simple as going for a walk in your neighborhood or park can help you feel better. Sure, there’s nothing exciting about walking, but seeing people and breathing fresh air can help.

Secondly, force yourself to exercise, even if it’s walking. Exercise is great for mental health and can make you feel awesome when those endorphines are released. A boost in confidence provided by exercising is exactly what you need when feeling depressed. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. You don’t have to lift heavy weights or get a Peloton bike. Maybe try jogging or if you already belong to a gym, hop on those machines and exercise with very light weights. There is something magical about exercising. It’s definitely a natural remedy for poor mental health.

Lastly, you have to talk to people. Depressed people who isolate are at increased risk for suicide than depressed people who still socialize and engage with others. Isolation is a breeding ground for depression because a lack of people promotes negative thought cycles. Isolation can cause thoughts such as, “no one likes me anyway,” “even if I kill myself, no one would care; they probably wouldn’t even notice.” So keep in touch with your friends and family and tell them how you’re feeling. They may be the reason you end up receiving the professional care you deserve.

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Psilocybin Mushrooms

Something to Think About

Drugs have a bad ring to them. When one thinks of them, an image of DARE, bad high school kids and people in prison come to mind. This is because we have been conditioned by society to believe that drugs are bad. We have been turned off by the idea of their consumption and view them as dangerously destructive. But when it comes to alcohol and cigarettes, “Please! It’s on me this time.” Have you heard of psilocybin mushrooms? We will briefly mention them below.

With ketamine approved for severe depression and clinical research trials underway around the world, it begs the question, “Are drugs the new mental health tool?” We are not talking about recreational use such as what we’re seeing with cannabis. We are referring to medicinal use of drugs under professionally-controlled medical environments. Can marijuana, psilocybin, LSD, DMT, ketamine and others be used effectively to treat mental health conditions? Many suffer from alcoholism, treatment-resistant depression and anxiety with no alleviation by conventional medicine.

The Evidence on Psilocybin Mushrooms

Psilocybin was once used in the field of psychiatry in the 1950s but was banned after the hippy subculture broke loose. Timothy Leary, a clinical psychologist at Harvard during the 1960s, promoted LSD to the masses. This encouraged the hippy subculture to indulge in hallucinogens, which the U.S. federal government saw as a threat. It was then that all hallucinogens were banned and classified as Schedule I drugs with no medical value. Ever since, the research on hallucinogens has been minimal. But in the last decade or so, psilocybin, DMT and LSD have reentered university labs for the study of various mental disorders.

In particular, psilocybin has been studied at UCLA, NYU and at Johns Hopkins for treatment-resistant depression and anxiety. Patients with treatment-resistant depression have failed multiple trials of 2-3 antidepressants. The results with psilocybin have been amazing. Six to nine months after the clinical trials started, the participants reported that their depression and anxiety had been greatly alleviated. What conventional medicine failed to perform in a lifetime, psilocybin treated in only two sessions. It’s believed that psilocybin helps rewire the brain by shutting off bad pathways and creating new ones.

It’s also believed that the hallucinatory experience that psilocybin provides helps patients access their unconscious mind. Traumatic experiences and sources of depression are often stored in the unconscious mind. The point of psychodynamic psychotherapy is to gain access to the unconscious mind and encounter these powerful sources of depression. The problem with psychotherapy is that it’s a lengthy process and many depressed patients don’t have the strength to endure it. But with psilocybin, the hallucinatory experience is so powerful, that patients are forced to encounter their unconscious in that one session.

The Future of Psychiatry?

I hope I sparked a new curiosity in you. Now it’s your turn to do your research and discover whether drugs have the potential to provide mental health benefits. Are we doing our due diligence by properly researching these compounds for therapeutic use, or is this just another excuse to legalize them and get high? I personally believe that psilocybin needs to be further explored for depression and anxiety, MDMA for PTSD and Ketamine for depression. Why not include more tools in our medicinal kit that can potentially help humanity by treating mental illness? After all, a drug is considered illegal because the government says so. This does not mean that they do not have medical value.

The same potential that psilocybin is demonstrating now for depression, was similarly demonstrated in the 1950s. Why did we have to waste 50 years before research was reintroduced? Were these exotic compounds intentionally withheld from the masses for reasons unbeknownst to us? Perhaps these compounds’ hallucinatory effects, heightened perceptual interpretations and insightful nature can help us defeat mental illness? Maybe these compounds help us see the truth in between the lines? Why do we even have to seek the truth? Shouldn’t it be available without question?

One important point to mention is the future of these compounds in society. As hallucinogens continue to gain popularity, several cities in the U.S. have already decriminalized psilocybin. The question remains, “Do we push for legalization or keep these compounds as medicine only?” A lot of pros and cons of legalization would have to be properly hashed out before we enter this territory. Let’s revisit history and remind ourselves how hallucinogenic research compounds became mainstream, leading to their scheduled ban. What was meant to stay in the lab was sprinkled onto the masses, turning them into Mario Kart characters surfing on stare trails while eating Skittles candy. With Timothy Leary earning reputations such as, “a hero of American consciousness”, this surely pissed off the federal government of the United States. So much for psilocybin mushrooms.

The Trippy Ban of Psilocybin Mushrooms

And so they were banned and immediately dropped out of university research labs. Perhaps this time, let’s hold off on legalization and let’s give space to where space is due; mental health treatment. After all, if we’re motivated to help humanity, let’s at least begin with those who can benefit medically. Recreational use may certainly have its mind-expanding adventures, sparking creativity and the earning of newfound knowledge, but medicinal should come first. Let’s allow the institutions to work with the federal government at legalizing these medicinal tools and providing them as an additional avenue for mental health treatment. But to see both medicinal use and recreational use legalized at the same time; it just might be too big of a hit for the masses to handle.

Psilocybin mushrooms. Look up the research and discover the truth.

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Signs of Depression

Uncontrolled Depression

You may have experienced depression five or ten years ago but it doesn’t mean that you’re now in the clear. Depression can always reemerge like a deadly virus that no one expected to turn into a pandemic. That’s because unresolved depression can go unnoticed for years at a time, only to make itself noticeable unexpectedly. You may have been feeling depressed this whole time and not even know it. Sometimes life has a way of keeping you distracted from your own feelings! Signs of depression sometimes go unnoticed.

The last thing you want to do is ignore your depression and bury it somewhere in the closet. This is a recipe for disaster. Depression is not something that you sweep under the rug only to return to it years later. The symptoms of depression are too powerful to ignore and often catch up with you when you least expect them. You will either seek treatment and recover or spiral down into a dark pit full of misery, potentially succumbing to alcohol and drugs.

Signs of Depression to Look out For

So what is my recommendation? Don’t be afraid, shy or ashamed to seek help and talk about your feelings. What’s the worst that can happen? You’ll be judged? If someone is judging you because you are depressed, it’s time to cut them out of your life. You only have everything to gain by opening up with a mental health professional and seeking treatment. It’s time that you put your ego aside and seek the care that your mind, body and soul deserve. So what are some signs of depression to look out for?

  • Increased or decreased sleep
  • Decreased interest in activities or goal-directed behavior
  • Guilt
  • Decreased energy
  • Low concentration
  • Increased or decreased appetite
  • Weight gain or weight loss
  • Psychomotor slowing
  • Suicidal ideations

No one knows what causes depression. We have theories about biochemical imbalances in the brain, but as we both know, we’re not machines; we have feelings too. Mental illness is complex because it’s also a subjective field of medicine. We are dealing with the brain and it’s hard to tell how your brain is different than mine. How can we measure that? Everyone experiences different thoughts, perceptions and outlooks on life. Everyone has a different personality. While many depressed people share the same symptoms as listed above, the etiology can be quite different. What makes you depressed may only make me slightly sad. What trips you up and spirals you out of control, may only make me pissed off for an hour before recovering.

Treatments for Depression

Therapy often helps to get to the source of depression, but there also patients who have no idea why they feel depressed. These patients struggle to even identify something wrong in their life. To their shock, they cannot understand why they are depressed when they have a good family, marriage, job and even upbringing. In my professional opinion, these are the patients that demonstrate an example of biological depression. Something is malfunctioning in their brain with no apparent outward source behind their depression. These are the cases in which antidepressants are definitely recommended and they often work within 1-2 months of starting them.

Please open up about your symptoms with a mental health professional. It even helps to open up with someone who you really trust, like a significant other or a really good friend. No matter what you do, please don’t isolate yourself and harbor symptoms all to yourself. You need to speak out.

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Feeling Depressed

When People Stomp All Over You

Many people are raised not to disobey their parents or argue back. As children, they fear their parent’s disapproval and do everything they can to appear perfect. As they slowly exit out of adolescence and enter the real world, they realize that their upbringing was not suitable for people outside their culture. They find themselves depressed because they care too much about what others think of them. They also don’t develop the strength to stand up for themselves; so they end up feeling depressed.

Your upbringing defines your adulthood to a great extent. It’s when you’re a child and adolescent that your personality is molded and shaped into your adult persona. If your personality is not well-shaped from a young age, you will experience relationship difficulties during your adulthood. When people stomp all over you, it means that you don’t have the courage nor strength to stand up for yourself.

You give others too much power and even turn them into authority figures, similarly to what you did with your parents growing up. When others make fun of you or point out your flaws, you become ashamed of yourself, internalizing and believing everything they say. Instead, you need to be standing up for yourself. You may experience what some like to call a “shutdown;” an episode of low energy, drive or motivation to do anything. You become a doormat with everyone walking on you.

Feeling Depressed – It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Even though you have a job, raise children and are functional, your interaction with others limit your happiness. If people are nice and get along well with you, you find yourself having no problems. It’s only when those who argue back and critique you that you become frozen in time and don’t know how to react. You want to fight back, experiencing an internal desire to stand up for yourself and tell them, “Stop saying these things!” But sadly, you never learned how to do so growing up.

But it’s never too late! Psychotherapy is the process of analyzing your life and learning how to change your thoughts and behaviors. Anyone can benefit from psychodynamic/psychoanalytic therapy; you don’t need a mental illness to be qualified for therapy. If you find yourself in this category of persons who are functional but struggling with depression and problematic behaviors, then I highly recommend you start psychotherapy. You will not regret it.

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COVID Depression

Coronavirus – An Era of Depression

I have talked to so many patients who are sitting at home in a depressed state of mind since the pandemic started. The key word is at “home” because they are functional and not so depressed that they require a hospitalization. These people still experience some of the symptoms that come with depression. Even before the coronavirus, there were many Americans already depressed; now, that number has substantially increased. COVID depression is real and you are not alone.

Some of the symptoms of depression may include a decreased sleep, decreased interest in activities, decreased concentration, etc. Some people also experience a decreased appetite, guilt, loss of energy, slowing of body movements or even suicidal ideations. Many Americans experience at least a few of these symptoms while sitting at home with no agenda. The recurring theme is that they lost their job and are not leaving the house; they lack activities that can keep them preoccupied during the day.

Some people also become very anxious at home and anxiety and depression are often comorbid. They will complain that there’s so much negative news or that people in the neighborhood are not wearing masks. They complain, “people don’t care as if there’s no pandemic going on.” What’s important to understand is that we cannot force others to wear masks, nor should we expect them to. It’s a free world and people have the right to do what they want.

Are you Experiencing COVID Depression?

So why am I pointing out the obvious? Because clearly it’s making you anxious that others aren’t following health officials’ recommendations. But why are you getting hurt in the process? You should not be anxious or depressed because of external factors. You need to learn how to place uncontrollable external factors aside and focus on bettering yourself. Do your due diligence by wearing a mask and washing your hands but don’t expect others to do the same.

It’s not easy being home unemployed due to COVID. Some people work from home but still feel depressed because their previous routine of leaving the house and coming back in the evening has been taken away from them. They are not used to using their home space as a work environment after working away from home for over twenty years. As I have mentioned in many previous articles, depression is like a wave and many times you don’t see it coming; you just have to ride it out without falling down.

This pandemic is a similar wave but much bigger and deadlier. It may be harder to hold on but it’s definitely doable. So don’t allow this wave of depression to knock you off your surfboard. Many people are experiencing the negative emotions that you are; you are never alone in this. So maintain a positive mindset, keep yourself preoccupied during the day by finding work, taking long walks outside, reading, exercising and socializing. Don’t allow anxiety and depression to get to you and certainly don’t allow them to bring you down!

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Depressed On Drugs

Using Drugs To Cope With Depression

Not everyone will admit that they use drugs to cope with depression, but it’s quite common. Whether it’s your bottle of liquor, line of cocaine or blunt of marijuana, substance use comes in quite handy in times of depression. But there’s a catch; they actually make your depression worse in the long run because they don’t fix the problem to begin with. Substances only mask the problem, allowing you to believe that you can now live your life without experiencing the symptoms of depression.

Another danger with using substances to cope with depression is the increased risk of impulsive acts. Substances give you more power, freedom and ability to perform acts which you otherwise would not have if you were sober. In relation to depression, the most severe act is a suicide attempt. Because substances impair your judgment as well, you can end up doing something very dangerous towards yourself or others.

Many patients will deny having problems with substances and you can tell so by observing how they become defensive about the topic when you inquire more about their alleged use of a substance. If you pay attention to their body language as well as to the tone of their voice, you will realize that they experience your questions as intrusive, judgmental and even accusatory.

But you’re not doing any of that (hopefully)! What you’re in fact doing is called motivational interviewing; a technique utilized with substance abuse patients that attempts to understand where they are coming from and whether they are ready to make a change, the change being to eventually quit the substance. But patients who are depressed may have a more difficult time with motivational interviewing because many will hide their substance abuse in the first place.

Depressed patients typically have a low self-esteem during their depressive episodes, so the last thing that they want to do is to reveal their problems with substances; some might, but many won’t. Depression and substance abuse is a deadly combination because the substances give more power to the user to commit suicide. In addition, substances and psychiatric medications are never a good mix, sometimes even inducing serotonin syndrome if a combination of cocaine and SSRIs are used.

If you encounter a depressed person and you suspect substance abuse, then you’re likely right. But don’t pressure them to reveal their use; this will almost always backfire. Inquire and show your concern, but allow them to slowly reveal it to you when they are ready. Rather, you want to focus more on their depression because often times, it’s their depression that made them start abusing substances in the first place.

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Paralyzed By Depression

Day Consumed By Depression

Anyone who has ever experienced depression knows that it’s sometimes brought upon you by an unexpected wave that you never saw coming. It’s not like you wake up one day and you’re depressed; that’s not what we’re talking about. You don’t see the depression coming but you can definitely sense the bits and pieces of it trickling in. In other others, you’re not going to point at a calendar and say, “I’ll probably feel depressed July 4th.” It just happens.

But when the feeling hits you on that particular day, you’ll definitely know that you’re experiencing it. It feels like the inside of you is melting; you feel the pain spreading through your arms and legs and it’s especially heavy in the center of your chest. It’s as if your heart is pumping depressed blood and you’re slowing becoming paralyzed in mind and body; you can feel your soul kicking like the legs of a fetus in the uterus of a pregnant woman.

When the episode has begun, it’s very hard to just snap out of it and turn your day around. This takes a lot of strength and past experience and who wants to be that guy who has a lot of experience snapping out of depression? It’s not something that you necessarily want in your arsenal. It’s difficult to snap out of depression during that day because like I previously said, you feel paralyzed and out of options, as if riding the wave is the easiest thing to do.

If something exciting happens during the day, it makes snapping out of the depression much easier, but let’s be honest, how many of us have random exciting things that we can rely on to snap us out of these episodes? On second thought, even wealthy people who have tons of things to be excited about often can’t snap out of their depressive fits; the wave is just too powerful.

So what you’ll end up doing is trying to hold on for dear life and avoid drowning. If you can get to the end of the day near your bedtime, you’ll know that you have made it. I want to make clear that the depression that I am referring to is not the psychiatric diagnosis of “major depressive disorder.” I am referring to a general feeling of sadness that you can refer to as feeling “depressed,” but it’s not the same thing as major depression, which involves symptoms such as decreased sleep, interest, appetite, concentration, guilt and suicidal ideations for at least two weeks in a row.

We all experience sadness, but it’s one thing to be sad for one hour of the day and another to have your entire day consumed by depression. The latter involves your day psychologically going to waste. You may have accomplished chores and tasks and even have done fun things, but nothing was truly enjoyable because depression was eating you alive from the inside out. Sometimes talking to someone may help alleviate your depression, but keep in mind that it’s quite difficult to surf your way off the wave when you feel like it.

Oftentimes, when the wave arrives, it’s fair to say that you’ll be riding it all day. Your goal is to alleviate the falls and try to maintain as smooth of a ride as possible. If you can coast throughout the day without falling, consider yourself having experienced a minor depressive fit. When you wake up the next day, make sure that you maintain positive thoughts from the moment that you open your eyes, so that you don’t give depression and its associated wave a second run for its money.

You are not in this alone. Always feel free to engage with The DSM Ready Community for help and support!

Are you Ready? (This is Defeating Stigma Mindfully)

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