Sixth Edition: Assist in Your Community

This edition of the Assist in Your Community Newsletter will focus on Seasonal Affective Disorder, and features an article by Nancy Stek, Associate Director of the New Jersey Lawyers' Assistance Program.
There is no doubt that the Alberta winter season can feel as if it's never going to end. Education and awareness of seasonal depression can help those who feel that the cold is causing them unexplained sadness. Continue reading and learn more about Seasonal Affective Disorder including tips to help fight the onset of symptoms, myths about the disorder, and more.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

What is it?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly abbreviated to SAD, is a variation of depression that occurs for an individual at the same time, every year. It is commonly related to the amount of daylight to which people are exposed.

For many who suffer from SAD, symptoms can begin as early as September or October and end as late as April or May. It is rarer that the spring and summer months cause depression, but it does occur for some individuals. This is when the increased amount of light causes a decline in mood.

What are the symptoms?
Those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder will not experience the same symptoms or combination of symptoms from this form of depression. However, a few of these include, but are not limited to:
  • Withdrawal from friends and/or family
  • Increased sleep
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Weight gain, possible change in appetite with an increase of cravings for starches and sweets
  • Sadness, anxiety, or despair
  • Inability to focus or concentrate
  • Lower energy levels (lethargy/fatigue)
For rare cases where summer months cause depression in individuals, the following are symptoms that may occur:
  • Weight loss
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Insomnia - difficulties sleeping/loss of sleep

Shedding Some Light...

By Nancy Stek, Associate Director of the New Jersey Lawyers' Assistance Program.

This winter has been a difficult one when it comes to weather.  Record-breaking snowfall amounts have many people grappling with how to handle the “winter blues”.  Some are considering moving to warmer climates or, at the very least, taking a last minute vacation to a sunnier location. I, on the other hand, am excited to pack up my skis and head to the slopes for some fun and recreation. But there is one aspect of the “winter blues” that I share with those looking to catch the next jet south: the limited amount of daylight during the winter season.
The “winter blues” has a more clinical name: Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.  Aptly named, it is a type of depression that affects some people during the winter months, the time of year when the amount of daylight available is shortened.  The winter solstice, typically around the 21 of December, marks the “shortest day of the year.”  Daylight hours throughout the fall diminish by minutes per day and people with SAD find themselves on a downward mood slope as daylight disappears.

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Common Myths about SAD

SAD is not as serious as 'real depression'. Although Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that many are unfamiliar with, it does not make it any less severe. Like other, more commonly known types of depression, it should be treated with the same amount of seriousness and caution.
Suicides are more common in the winter. Though many associate the season of winter with general 'gloominess', studies have shown that over the past several years suicide numbers are higher in the spring and summer months.
Light therapy is not legitimate treatment. Reduced sunlight has been proven to have the ability to alter one's internal clock and brain chemistry. It may seem odd to be told by a professional to spend time sitting by bright, artificial light, but studies have shown that this treatment is effective for those suffering from SAD.
Everybody finds winter depressing. In a recent study conducted by the psychology journal, Emotion, approximately 400 individuals were studied to find a link between weather and moods. Less than half of the group were affected by weather, showing the severity and occurrence of the condition.

For more information, '4 Myths About Winter Depression'.

What has Assist been up to?

January 30 - 31: Assist was an exhibitor at the 2014 Alberta Law Conference.
February 17: Assist volunteer, Simon Shakibaei, wrote a guest article about the upcoming Hand to Hand Fundraiser in CBA newsletter publication, Law Matters.
March 19: Steve Mandziuk, Q.C. and Board Director the Hon. Judge Robert Philp were guest lecturers to Professor Cameron Jefferies' Professional Responsibility course at the University of Alberta.
March 20: Assist volunteers and Board members presented at the Practice Fundamentals Day for CPLED in Calgary
March 26: Assist held its Annual General Meeting in Edmonton at Field LLP.
March 27: Assist volunteers and Board members presented at the Practice Fundamentals Day for CPLED in Edmonton.
March 5: Assist attended the Bottom Line Conference in Calgary.
March 31 - April 1: Marian De Souza, Q.C. attended St. Paul's inaugural Law Day celebration.

2014 Inaugural
Hand to Hand Fundraiser

On May 8, 2014 at the Sheraton Suites Eau Claire in Calgary, Assist will be hosting the inaugural Hand to Hand Fundraiser. This dinner will feature keynote speaker, Senator Roméo Dallaire.
Senator Dallaire is a retired Canadian Army Lieutenant General and a celebrated humanitarian. He is the founder of the Child Soldiers Initiative, an advocate for human rights, a champion of genocide prevention, and a best selling author. Senator Dallaire will share his personal experience with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and speak with the Alberta bar about addressing physical and mental health.

Tips for Fighting SAD

Get exposure to outdoor light. Yes, even though its cold, get outside and walk for at least 10 minutes a day. Light enters the brain through the eyes and impacts serotonin and dopamine, two neurotransmitters that play a role in mood.
Get moving. Head to the gym and exercise. Aerobic exercise in particular stimulates endorphins and can help you to feel better. It's also a good way to burn stress and if you're exercising in a gym or part of a group it provides social interaction which also helps with depression.
Get out of town. A weekend trip to warmer climates can work wonders. To anyone who feels they are prone to SAD, it may help to plan, if affordable, a weekend getaway to somewhere warm with plently of sun. It gives the person something to look forward to when they might otherwise dwell on the long cold winter and it provides a healthy dose of sunshine and warmth.
Get closer to the window. If possible arrange your office so that your desk is closer to the outside and to sunshine. This will provide natural light which will also help to enhance your mood. If this isn't possible consider a light therapy box, a device that creates an artificial light mimicking natural light.

For more information, '6 Ways to Defeat SAD'.

Upcoming Awareness Events

April 24: Assist will be attending the 'Four Generations, One Workplace' conference hosted by LESA.
April 26 - 29: Assist will be attending the LESA Civil Litigation Refresher in Lake Louise.
April 30: Assist will be participating in a discussion at the University of Calgary Law School regarding student mental health and wellness.
May 8: Assist will be holding the Inaugural Hand to Hand Fundraiser at the Sheraton Suites Eau Claire in Calgary, featuring Senator Roméo Dallaire.
June 4: Assist will be presenting to the Central Bar Association in Red Deer.
June 18: Assist's Executive Director and the Hon. Judge Robert Philp will lead a roundtable discussion on lawyer wellness at the 2014 Aboriginal Law Conference in Iqaluit.
June 20: Assist's Executive Director, Marian De Souza will be presenting at the Aboriginal Law Conference in Iqaluit on Ethics and Professionalism.

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