As many studies have already reported, during 2020 the number of mental illness symptoms in the population increased due to social distancing measures, increased lockdowns, and general disruption to normal life due to the COVID pandemic. For this reason, the prevalence of seasonal affective/affective disorders and depression is also expected to hit record highs in the coming months, as the rise in virus infections coincides with a decline in warmer weather opportunities to exercise. invades. In addition to the widespread and multifaceted devastation caused by the pandemic, political issues and social unrest are making the Australian population increasingly vulnerable to mental illness during this winter season.
Seasonal/affective disorder and depression
Of the 20% of Australians with a mental illness per year, current estimates from the Department of Health suggest that 11.5% have one disorder and 8.5% have two or more disorders. Nearly half (45%) of Australians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. About 10% of these mental illnesses worsen as winter approaches.
The onset of cold weather and reduced exposure to sunlight contributes to a biochemical imbalance in the brain characterized by decreased serotonin levels and altered circadian rhythms. Common symptoms include sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in appetite or eating habits, changes in sleep, and loss of energy. The condition usually lasts about 40% of the year, although it can last even longer in some patients.
Seasonal/affective disorder and depression are more common in women, young people who live farther from the equator, and those with a personal or family history of depression. However, the current environment is not conducive to overall well-being, putting more people at risk for mood disorders and depression, even if they have never had a mental health problem before. The symptoms of seasonal/affective disorder are likely to be exacerbated by pandemic conditions worldwide and in Australia.
As the number of activities decreases, feelings of isolation exacerbated by stress and anxiety are increasing across populations and age groups. Protective measures against COVID-19, including the closure of many businesses and the restriction of social contacts, not only help to reduce face-to-face contact, but also increase the financial burden. Lack of physical mobility, decreased activity and the constant threat of the new coronavirus greatly increase the risk of mental health symptoms in the population.
Mental Health therapy & options
It is vital to find safe ways to communicate and stay active in the upcoming winter season. People are encouraged to maintain a strong family and friend support system with frequent video and phone calls, remote visits, and other safe interactions. Experts recommend maintaining a consistent exercise regimen, which can greatly improve mental health by improving overall physical and emotional well-being. Despite the cold weather, it’s important to continue spending time outdoors safely, exposed to sunlight and fresh air.
Another potential recommended treatment option is bright sunlight therapy, which can be used indoors to mimic exposure to sunlight. Daily treatment includes about 20 minutes of light exposure during the winter months, with improvement seen 1-2 weeks after starting treatment. In addition, experts recommend taking a natural approach to brain health foods that can be beneficial.
In fact, the gut produces brain neurotransmitters such as serotonin. A healthy gut gives us a healthy brain.
Functional medicine offers helpful options for dealing with affective/emotional symptoms and depression. However, some patients may require more aggressive therapeutic measures to improve their affective/affective disorders and depressive symptoms. Speech therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy can effectively treat affective/mood depression, as can antidepressants such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
According to Department of Health advice, anyone experiencing severe symptoms of affective/affective disorders and depression or suicidal thoughts should see a doctor immediately or seek help from the nearest emergency room. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Line on 13 11 14 to speak.