[MENTAL HEALTH]When the winter blues last all year round...

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[MENTAL HEALTH]When the winter blues last all year round...

For some, the sentimental season is upon us, with its clear blue skies bringing on the urge to travel like migratory birds. However, there are some for whom autumn brings on darker emotions. These are people suffering from clinical depression, and for them, fall is often the cruelest of seasons. The colder weather and the declining amount of sunlight during the day can make even ordinary people feel vulnerable as hormones that affect our emotions change with the weather. The problem is that such changes can be fatal as symptoms become more severe for people suffering from clinical depression. Some may even think of suicide, which while more prevalent in the spring, has its roots in the fall, psychologists say.
The increasing number of suicides in Korea has raised public awareness of the issue, especially regarding the causes of such a tragic phenomenon. A catalyst for this new focus was the death of actress Lee Eun-ju, who hung herself in February, despite being at the peak of her career. This made people more curious about this “invisible killer.”
According to the National Statistical Office, 10.5 people per 100,000 committed suicide in 1994, but the number more than doubled to 25.2 in 2004. Currently, an attempted suicide takes place on average every five minutes and “successful” ones every 45 minutes ― over 10,000 people kill themselves in Korea every year.
The biggest public misconception is that suicide happens only under extremely tragic circumstances, such as the death of a family member or a loved one. But psychiatrists say this is untrue. They believe that many suicides are driven by internal factors rather than outside circumstances. No matter how tough one’s life becomes, those who are mentally healthy can feel seasonally depressed but recover. However, those who have innate traits of depression tend to go to behavioral extremes over the smallest problems. From a psychological point of view, suicide is a result of this clinical depression.
Depression is, in short, a stage of sadness that most people get over. But for the clinically depressed it lasts for an unusually long time. These people feel unmotivated and helpless when dealing with problems. This depression is not caused by external factors such as their financial situation or education. Modern medical studies see depression as a malfunction of certain parts of the brain ― a chemical disorder. For example, if the amount of serotonin (a “feel good” hormone) produced by the brain is insufficient, depression can result. This can be treated by taking antidepressants such as Prozac or Zoloft, drugs that increase the amount of serotonin.
The problem is that many people are afraid to go to a psychiatrist as they feel only “insane” people do this. But such clinics are also for ordinary people who feel too stressed, too anxious, or too sad. Before her suicide, Ms. Lee had symptoms of depression, according to a psychiatrist she visited, but she refused to take drugs even after being made aware of her condition.
Coincidentally, in her last film, “The Scarlet Letter,” her character also killed herself. Ironically, Ms. Lee played the tragic role so well, she received rave reviews from critics, who praised her for presenting a depressed look so naturally. What would have happened if she had taken a tablet of Prozac everyday? It might not have solved everything, but it may at least have saved her life.
If you see someone who is extremely depressed around you, you should ask for help from a medical professional. Clinical depression can kill.

Signs of seasonal depression
1. Feeling a lack of motivation
2. Loss of appetite, or conversely, too large an appetite
3. Sleeping disorders including insomnia or too much sleep
4. Anxiety, tiredness, indecisiveness
5. Frequent thoughts of suicide
6. Mood-swings and frequent crying.

Recommended ways to minimize or prevent depression
1. Avoid junk food, caffeine and sugar
2. Exercise regularly
3. Keep good relationships with friends
4. Listen to cheerful music
5. Don’t be afraid to see a psychiatrist

by Hong Hye-gul
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