Changing seasons, changing moods: are you feeling SAD?

As the seasons change and the days become shorter, there can be a tendency for some people in northern climates to be affected by the decrease in exposure to sunlight.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that corresponds to seasonal changes in light. It most commonly occurs in late fall and lasts through the winter and into spring. It’s not uncommon to feel “down” during the winter months. But people with SAD are not able to function normally during these months. It often begins during adolescence or young adulthood.

Seasonal Affective Disorder may be experienced by six of every 100 people in the United States according to statistics by the American Academy of Family Physicians. Another 10% to 20% may experience some mild form of SAD. It seems to be more common in women than men and although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than 20 years of age. For adults, the risk of SAD decreases as they get older. Seasonal Affective Disorder is more common in northern geographic regions.

The cause of SAD is not completely understood. It is clearly related to changes in seasonal light. Light affects cycles in the body. Lack of light during the winter months could possibly throw off levels of hormones and brain chemicals. This could contribute to the symptoms of SAD.

Scientists are also researching if SAD is related to lack of the chemical serotonin in the brain.

People with SAD have seasonal symptoms that come and go each year. They usually peak during the winter and disappear during the spring and summer.

Symptoms can include:

  • Depressed mood, feelings of sadness
  • Cravings for sweet or starchy foods
  • Overeating
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Lack of energy
  • Oversleeping or insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Social withdrawal
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decreased sexual desire

Visit our interactive screening tool to evaluate your symptoms.

People with SAD may benefit from several different treatment or approaches:

Light Therapy
Light therapy is simple. The light box is made up of fluorescent bulbs, a reflective surface, and a diffusing screen. Ordinary household lighting is not sufficient. You sit a few feet away from the ultra-bright light for a certain amount of time each day, usually in the morning. You will be able to read or work during the therapy, as your eyes will remain open. Your doctor will probably start you off with 15-20 minutes a day. You will gradually increase the time, usually to 30-45 minutes daily.

There is some evidence that light therapy may be as effective as antidepressant therapy, but with fewer side effects.

Tanning beds are not recommended as a source of light therapy. They give off ultraviolet light, which can increase the risk of cancer. They also have not been proven effective for treating SAD. Many people find that getting outdoors for a walk each day is also helpful.

Antidepressant Medications
Your doctor may prescribe anti-depressant medications. These medications are usually prescribed when a person does not feel better with light therapy or if the depression is very severe.

Psychotherapy
Therapists can help you learn ways of managing stress and the symptoms of SAD. To schedule an appointment with a psychotherapist at Aurora Behavioral Health call 414-773-4312 or visit our web site at http://www.aurora.org/abhs

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options in a caring, confidential environment.  If you find you may be struggling with stress that is causing significant physical or emotional impairment in your lifecontact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

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Will the Packers go to the Super Bowl this year? Wanna bet?

A casual sports bet may not appear dangerous to most people. However, wagering on some sort of game is now possible in every state except Utah and Hawaii, with casinos now capturing more dollars than movie, theater, opera and concert tickets combined.

As gambling has become more available and accepted, problem, or pathological, gambling has become one of our country’s most critical behavioral health problems. The costs of problem gambling – crime, bankruptcy, domestic violence, lost jobs, broken families – are estimated at about $307 million a year in Wisconsin alone. For most people, gambling provides a controlled, affordable form of entertainment. But for some, this can become a dangerous addiction. The Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling reports approximately 333,000 Wisconsin residents have a gambling problem.

Dr. Edward Rubin gives insight into how gambling addiction can destroy lives.

For some people, gambling can become an addiction, with many of the same consequences as other addictions: inability to stop gambling once started; a preoccupation with gambling and with obtaining money to continue gambling; and the development of tolerance, or the need to gamble with more and more money to achieve the same level of satisfaction.

Problem gambling seems to develop in stages, beginning with the initial winning phase, when even occasional successes create in the gambler a sense of power, exhilaration and confidence that they can “beat the odds.” When the inevitable losing streak begins, gamblers will try to win back everything they have lost, all at once. “Chasing,” or betting larger amounts to make up for losses, is common.

Attempts to control the behavior are unsuccessful, and when the gambler is forced to reduce or stop gambling, he or she becomes restless and irritable. They begin to gamble more frequently, gamble alone and wager higher amounts, often covering up or lying about the extent of their gambling. Bills go unpaid, credit may become exhausted and relationships deteriorate.

At this point, some pathological gamblers “cross the line” into the desperation phase, when they may begin to do things that were previously unthinkable, such as writing bad checks, forgery or stealing from employers. The gambler often rationalizes that these are “short-term loans” that they will repay as soon as they win back their losses.

In spite of the increasingly negative effects on relationships, employment and finances, the compulsive gambler will ignore the consequences and continue the behavior that becomes more and more destructive.

For some, there is a third phase called the giving up phase, where pathological gamblers realize that they cannot get even and will never catch up, and they no longer even care. Playing itself is the only thing that matters. They want the action and excitement for its own sake and are looking to recapture the emotional high that was part of their early gambling experience.

It is not unusual for gamblers, in the second and third phases, to become depressed and even suicidal. Studies indicate that 75 percent of compulsive gamblers experience major depression in the later stages of their illness, when the gambler may withdraw from family and friends and may become increasingly dependent on alcohol or drugs. The individual is finally faced with four options: imprisonment, running away, committing suicide or getting help.

Although not impossible, it is difficult to change this behavior on your own. But there is help. The first steps are recognizing that your gambling is out of control and seeking help from others to help you change the behavior.

At Aurora Behavioral Health Services, our staff members are experts in the diagnosis and treatment of problem gambling. We begin with a thorough assessment of each person’s specific needs and develop a comprehensive, personalized treatment plan focused on achieving and maintaining a gambling-free lifestyle. This may include group therapy and support, individual and family counseling and relapse prevention planning.

If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, call Aurora Behavioral Health Services at (877) 666-7223 or the WCPG Hotline at 1-800-GAMBLE-5.

Edward Rubin, PsyD, is a psychologist at Aurora Sinai Medical Center Mental Health Services, Aurora Health Care. He specializes in the treatment of addictive disorders.

How would you rate your own emotional resilience?

Does the news about our struggling economy leave you anxious? Are national budget battles stressing you out? You are not alone.

More and more Americans are working longer hours, having to provide for their families with fewer resources, and making tough decisions about money.

In today’s blog post, Kimberlee Moster, LPC, a senior psychotherapist at Aurora Behavioral Health Services,  provides some insight into coping with stress and change.

So, how do we learn to cope with these stressors that we often cannot change? The answer is to develop emotional resiliency. Resiliency is about building your capacity to be able to deal with life’s challenges, major changes, pressures, and stress. It’s not about being naively positive, but rather being able to accurately assess a situation and know how much attention you need to devote to it. It’s also about giving yourself time to recuperate after a challenging situation has passed.

Resilient people have the following characteristics: 1) They “don’t sweat the small stuff.”  2) They are able to be at their best and maintain a sense of balance when faced with “big stuff” or major challenges. 3) They are flexible but durable and have a better ability to “go with the flow,” and  4) They come back stronger in the face of adversity.

So, how do you get to be one of the more resilient folks in the face of stress and change? First of all, it is important to put things into perspective. When faced with an adverse situation, ask yourself, “is this a decrease in what I can spend on new clothes, or not being able to pay the mortgage?” If the budget crisis is over new clothes, then save yourself the energy of dwelling over it and look at it differently. Look at other situations in your life or in the world and decide if you are being rational or overreacting. Think back to a time when you were successful at overcoming an adverse situation; know if you made it through that, you can make it through whatever is before you.

Another step toward emotional resiliency is getting rid of self-defeating thoughts.
Self-defeating thoughts and words stop you and keep you from moving past life’s challenges. So, change your dialogue to yourself and you may just change your outcomes.

Practicing acts of kindness and gratitude for no particular reason will also help you to appreciate what you do have in your life. You may have more blessings than you realize, and being thankful for the little things can make a big difference (electricity, food, work, family).

Finally, learning to live in the present moment is a skill developed by truly resilient people. Let go of dwelling on the past and worrying about the future. Learn to live a life without regrets. When was the last time you connected with a friend, or family member and really let yourself be present to the meaning they have in your life?  When was the last time you just enjoyed the rain rather than grabbing for the umbrella? We are human beings, not human doings, yet we go through life doing one thing after another.

So when you’re faced with stress and change in your life, slow down, give yourself a break, be present and grateful for new challenges and life lessons learned. Put things into perspective and have humor, as it is always the most challenging parts of life where we find we have the most growth.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options in a caring, confidential environment.  If you find you may be struggling with stress that is causing significant physical or emotional impairment in your lifecontact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

Save a life this September with suicide awareness

September 4 was the start of Suicide Prevention Week, and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared September 10, 2011 as World Suicide Prevention Day.

The purpose of this day is to raise awareness around the globe that suicide can be prevented. Goals of World Suicide Prevention day include sharing information, improving education and training, and decreasing stigmatization.

The WHO estimates that about one million people around the world die by suicide every year, and 2007 data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention indicates more than 34,000 suicides occurred in the U.S. This is the equivalent of 94 suicides per day; one suicide every 15 minutes or 11.26 suicides per 100,000 population.

Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among Americans. But suicide deaths are only part of the problem. More people survive suicide attempts than actually die. They are often seriously injured and need medical care.

Most people feel uncomfortable talking about suicide. Often, victims are blamed — and their friends, families, and communities are left devastated.

Visit these web sites for more information:

If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional. In Eastern Wisconsin contact Aurora Behavioral Health Services 1-877- 666-7223

For more information about treatment for individuals experiencing anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, or thoughts of suicide visit the web site for Aurora Psychiatric Hospital.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs. If you or someone you know needs help, contact us — online or by phone at 1-877-666-7223 — as soon as possible.

September is National Recovery Month

National Recovery Month, now in its 25th year, is a national observance that creates awareness that addiction treatment and mental health services can enable those with a substance use or mental disorder to recover.

The main focus is to promote the positive stories of those in recovery from these conditions, just as we would those who are managing other health conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, asthma and heart disease.

Recovery Month spreads the positive message that behavioral health is essential to overall health, that prevention works, treatment is effective and people can and do recover. Research shows that substance use and mental disorders are treatable, and people should seek assistance for these conditions, with the same urgency as they would any other health condition.

In 2009, 4.3 million people aged 12 or older received treatment for substance use disorders and 30.2 million adults aged 18 or older received services for mental health problems according to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. We must continue to reach the millions more who need help.

Throughout September, take advantage of this opportunity to educate, inform, and take action.  And most importantly, celebrate and support the special people in your life who have overcome their challenges to achieve emotional wellness.

Aurora Behavioral Health Services offers complete mental health treatment options, provided by highly trained professionals in a caring, confidential manner to meet individual and family needs. If you or someone you know would benefit from addiction treatment or mental health services, please contact us at 877-666-7223 or visit our website.