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Taking away the stigma of mental illness

Ah, it’s February.

The month of red roses, pink hearts, frilly Valentine’s Day cards, and dreary weather.

I don’t know what it is about this time of year, but it always seems to feel like that “in between” month. Will it snow? Will it rain? Will it be 50 degrees and sunny or 32 degrees and snowing?

No one knows.

The holidays are over. The holiday credit card bills are coming in.

Summer vacations are still a bit too far off to start counting down to and at least this year, the ground is just there drab and blah. No fresh new green grass yet, no snow to cover the bleakness.

For myself, it’s full-on SAD season. Not sad as in unhappy but SAD as in seasonal affective disorder.

According to WebMD, “winter depression is still a mystery to scientists who study it. Many things, including brain chemicals, ions in the air, and genetics seem to be involved.

But researchers agree that people who suffer from winter depression – also known as “seasonal affective disorder,” a term that produces the cute acronym SAD – have one thing in common. They’re particularly sensitive to light, or the lack of it.”

Even though the daylight hours are getting longer, many of those daylight hours remain overcast and gloomy.

Although scientists haven’t exactly agreed on the reason for SAD, they do know that it is a mood disorder that affects an individual the same time each year, usually when the weather starts getting colder and colorful fall leaves fall to the ground, and it ends in spring when the weather warms up and splashes of color begin to show in nature again, buds on the trees a daffodil or tulip in the flower bed.

But did you know that the majority of people with SAD are women?

According to a study published in US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, women are diagnosed four times more than men.

It takes more than just one winter depression to be diagnosed with SAD, though.

Individuals must meet certain criteria such as symptoms and remissions must have occurred in the last two consecutive years and the seasonal depressive episodes must outnumber the nonseasonal depressive episodes in one’s lifetime, according to

While December is the official “Seasonal Affective Disorder Awareness Month,” it’s always something to discuss if you are feeling symptoms, which may include low energy, hypersomnia, weight gain or social withdrawal.

As a former disability advocate and sufferer of SAD, it’s important to take away the stigma of mental health diagnoses and disabilities and face them head on.

By seeking help and effective treatment, maybe you can skip some of the blahs and get back to enjoying the red roses, frilly Valentine’s Day cards and the feeling of love that surrounds Feb. 14.

For information on SAD or any mental illness, contact the Will-Grundy National Alliance on Mental Illness at 815-731-9103 (calls will be returned within 48 hours) or email for the local health department.

• Heidi Litchfield is the senior news writer for the Morris Herald-News. She can be reached at

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