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Blue Monday: Brutal cold, short days, post-holiday letdown raise risk of depression

MAYWOOD, Ill. – The first Monday after the holidays can be a depressing time for people coping with the post-holiday letdown and a type of depression triggered by short days called seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

And this year the first Monday will be especially blue, due to the added stress of the brutal cold in the forecast, said Loyola University Medical Center psychiatrist Dr. Angelos Halaris, who specializes in treating depression.

“All these factors will have a cumulative effect,” Halaris said. “We could see an uptick in depression this coming week and for the rest of the month."

For many people, the holidays are a time of too much eating and drinking, combined with family stresses and relationship issues. They begin the new year mentally and physically exhausted.

For people affected by seasonal affective disorder, energy and mood take a nose dive during the short days of winter. “SAD is characterized by depression, exhaustion and lack of interest in people and regular activities,” Halaris said. “It interferes with a person’s outlook on life and ability to function properly."

Environmental stresses, such as brutally cold weather, can help trigger depression in people who already are vulnerable due to SAD, post-holiday blues or other factors, Halaris said.

SAD is thought to be related to a chemical imbalance in the brain, brought on by lack of light due to winter’s shorter days and typically overcast skies.

“With less exposure to light in the winter months, many people become depressed,” Halaris said. “Those susceptible to SAD are affected even more so."

Halaris said that bright light affects brain chemistry in a helpful way and acts as an antidepressant. If you can stand the cold, get outside during the day, even if it is overcast.   At home, open the drapes and blinds to let in natural light.
SAD can be effectively treated with light therapy, antidepressant medication and/or psychotherapy, Halaris said. The latest treatment is a headband containing mounted lights that delivers light to your retina whether you are inside or outdoors.

Loyola University Health System (LUHS) is a member of Trinity Health. Based in the western suburbs of Chicago, LUHS is a quaternary care system with a 61-acre main medical center campus, the 36-acre Gottlieb Memorial Hospital campus and more than 30 primary and specialty care facilities in Cook, Will and DuPage counties. The medical center campus is conveniently located in Maywood, 13 miles west of the Chicago Loop and 8 miles east of Oak Brook, Ill. The heart of the medical center campus is a 559-licensed-bed hospital that houses a Level 1 Trauma Center, a Burn Center and the Ronald McDonald® Children's Hospital of Loyola University Medical Center. Also on campus are the Cardinal Bernardin Cancer Center, Loyola Outpatient Center, Center for Heart & Vascular Medicine and Loyola Oral Health Center as well as the LUC Stritch School of Medicine, the LUC Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing and the Loyola Center for Fitness. Loyola's Gottlieb campus in Melrose Park includes the 255-licensed-bed community hospital, the Professional Office Building housing 150 private practice clinics, the Adult Day Care, the Gottlieb Center for Fitness, Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery and Bariatric Care and the Loyola Cancer Care & Research at the Marjorie G. Weinberg Cancer Center at Melrose Park.

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