Seasonal patterns affect Airmen, combated by 28th MDOS

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Hailey Staker
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
In an area where the snow falls and the sun rarely shines between October and May, Airmen may experience symptoms of depression such as loss of energy, differences in sleep patterns and abnormal appetite.

Depression can have a tendency to stay dormant until fall and winter, presenting itself as depressive episodes more commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

"Some of it has to do with the sun not being out, which can affect your mood," said Maj. Rabecca Stahl, 28th Medical Operations Squadron mental health flight commander. "Depression can affect your interests, and you can experience guilt, feelings of worthlessness, low energy and poor concentration."

Those who suffer from depression may also experience poor appetite or overeating, as well as trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, Stahl added.

"You might notice that when you are in a depressive state you feel physically heavier than what you actually are," Stahl said. "The best way it has been described to me would be to imagine if you were wearing full winter gear getting ready to go out in the cold South Dakota weather and you decide to jump into a pool. When you are trying to pull yourself out from the pool, that heaviness you feel, that is similar to what depression feels like. So that is what we look out for as well."

Not only can the lack of sunlight during the winter affect moods, the cold weather can cause people to stay inside where it is warm, which can negatively impact social interactions with others.

"You aren't getting out as much, so you are interacting with people less," Stahl said. "Social interaction is very important for our mood, so we need to make sure we are forcing ourselves to get out and enjoy people and exercising, because it gets your endorphins going."

Stahl said it is easy for people to get out and interact with others during the holiday season, but once January rolls around and the temperatures drop, Airmen should still get out, even if they are just going to the mall.

"The thing we want to keep away from is the depression spiral," Stahl said. "[This is] where you start to have negative thoughts, and you feel worse about yourself, you do less and then feel [even] worse and so on. When you force yourself to do something enjoyable, it breaks the cycle."

There are many resources to aid Airmen when they start to feel down, such as Military One Source, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, Chaplains , and the Health and Wellness Center.

"If you believe there is something like this disturbing you, you can always go and talk to Military Once Source," Stahl said. "There is the Military and Family Life Consultants at the A&FRC, and the chaplains at this base are willing to talk to you even if you do not subscribe to their faith. They are more than happy to take the time to talk to you."

Stahl added that supervisors and first sergeants are also a great resource for Airmen to tap into as they are trained to see the signs of depression and know when to reach out and offer a helping hand.

There is also what Stahl calls happy lights, a resource Airmen can check out from either mental health or the HAWC to provide an alternate ultraviolet light source in place of the sun.

For more information, call the Mental Health Clinic at (605) 385-3656.