By FÉLICITÉ DARVILLE
THIS Christmas was unlike anything we have ever seen in the Bahamas. We have lost more people this year than any in recent history. The pandemic has claimed the lives of 713 Bahamians, many of whom succumbed to COVID-19 in 2021. Then there are those still recovering from the loss of loved ones to Hurricane Dorian.
Bahamians everywhere are doing their best to have a happy holiday season; but for some it is bittersweet because many homes are a little more empty without the laughter of loved ones. Yes, there is a lot to be thankful for. But we can’t ignore those who are struggling to adjust to life without the people who made the holidays special for them. We want them to be able to overcome their sadness and be happy too. One way to do this is to be able to identify family members and friends who may be having a more difficult time than others, and then offer them the help they need. They need all the love and support we can give them to help them see the bright side.
Nadia Cash, clinical psychologist and member of the Bahamas Psychological Association, said one of the most unfortunate impacts of COVID is the cause of the unexpected death of a victim.
“Suddenly losing someone you love to COVID-19 can be devastating,” she said, “especially considering how quickly the disease is invading the body. It may take some time to process and deal with all of the emotions that come with the loss and to adjust to living without this person in your life.
“Acknowledging your feelings can help you put them in the context of the loss,” advises Dr. Cash.
“Denying your feelings can prolong the grieving period longer than you expect. It’s good to say, “I’m not doing well.” Thoughts surrounding grief may sound like “I wish they were still here”, “I don’t know how to live without them”, “What am I going to do now?” “If only I had (said / done certain things) while they were still there.” These are all valid statements and may need to be addressed by talking to a close friend or going through therapy. “
Some physical sensations that can occur with grief are exhaustion, headaches, loss of appetite, inability to concentrate, or inability to sleep. Just noticing if there are any changes in your physical condition can help you go through the grieving process.
Behaviors associated with grieving may include withdrawing, refusing to talk about the person, avoiding any situation / place / person associated with the person, talking about the loss long after, or not taking practical steps. to deal with the loss, including cleaning up or donating the person’s property. Dr Cash says grief takes time to process and get through. Some may believe that there is a time limit for grieving, but it varies from person to person. Some people may take a few days to overcome their grief, others years. The process is personal. Recognizing that you are grieving, however, allows you and others to be more patient with your specific process.
Studies show that during this season about three percent of the population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Megan Johnson, deputy coordinator of mental health and psychosocial support for the Bahamas Psychological Association, knows that her fellow Bahamians are going through a difficult time and that grief can be made worse by SAD.
She explains that for those already struggling with major depression, around 10-20% of those people experience SAD. Up to 25% of people with bipolar disorder have SAD. This very real and common challenge of CAS affects its victims on average 40% of the year. Shedding light on this problem will help us better understand what signs to look for and how to fix them.
She said that even the time change, which results in an earlier sunset, can affect your mood: “After the time change did we all feel a difference? It was as if we were chasing daylight and night seemed to appear before its time. We can see and feel the seasons shift from fall to winter, where cold fronts are more frequent and our days are shorter. Many people this time of year are celebrating and preparing for the holiday festivities. For some, however, this time of year is difficult and intrusive.
SAD is a form of depression also known as seasonal depression, winter depression, or winter blues. It is a type of major depression characterized by a seasonal pattern. It just means that those with SAD see mood swings at the start and end of the season changes. Many people report that they start to feel depressed as the days get shorter in the fall and start to see major improvements in their mood with the onset of spring. While SAD is known to affect most people in the fall and winter, some people can even experience a TAS depressive episode in the spring and summer. This summer SAD is much less common where, unlike winter SAD, loss of appetite and lack of sleep are more likely to occur.
The typical onset of this condition begins when people are in their twenties and thirties, but adolescents can experience SAD as well. It is more common in women than in men, and many people never realize they have it. Research also suggests that SAD typically coexists with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, and Eating Disorder.
Having a family member with depression or other mental health issues can also predispose a person to SAD. This is why this Christmas may seem bluer to some Bahamians than to any other they have ever known.
Some people with the condition may not experience SAD every year, with around 30-50% of people reporting symptoms in consecutive winters. It is estimated that 40 percent of people with SAD continue to have depressive episodes after the winter where they experience no relief during the summer months. This specific course of the disorder leads to a change in diagnosis to major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
Dr Keva Thompson, PAHO National Consultant: Noncommunicable Diseases and Mental Health PAHO / WHO Office for the Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands shares this advice to help beat the winter blues:
• Keep up to date with the activities you enjoy and find alternatives for things that are no longer possible.
• Stay connected with your friends and family.
• Eat regularly and get enough sleep.
• Exercise regularly if you can, even if it’s just a short walk.
• Avoid or limit alcohol consumption and only take medications prescribed by your health care provider.
• If you think you are depressed, talk to someone you trust about your feelings.
• Seek professional help – your local health care professional or doctor is a good place to start.
Because SAD is not a separate disorder, but a type of depression, the treatments available are similar to those for major depression or bipolar disorder. Psychotherapy or “talk therapy” can help people with SAD replace negative thoughts often associated with seasonal changes with more positive ones. Evidence has shown that psychotherapy has long-term efficacy for the treatment of SAD, which can be further improved when combined with antidepressants or light therapy.
Light therapy is an empirically supported treatment method for SAD, where the person sits in front of a very bright light box each day for about 45 minutes. These lights are 20 times brighter than indoor lighting and help offset the decrease in light exposure throughout the day. Medicines used to treat SAD correct serotonin deficiencies and dramatically improve mood. Increasing vitamin D levels can also improve symptoms of SAD, as people with SAD often have vitamin D deficiency. For Bahamians, it can be as easy as spending more time outdoors, because we are lucky to have sun all year round.
During this holiday season, the Department of Health and Welfare, the Public Hospitals Authority, the Pan American Health Organization and the Psychological Association of the Bahamas say that it is important to obtain help with SAD for those struggling with this difficult disease. Take the time to notice if a family member is having difficulty mourning the loss of a loved one. Please seek help from your doctor or mental health specialist. You can call or WhatsApp these numbers for help: 819-7652; 816-3799; 815-5850; or 812-0576.