The Good, Bad, and The Ugly: Poverty and Seasonal Depression

Let’s face it, winters in Rochester can be H-O-R-R-I-B-L-E! Blizzards, icy roads, and overcast skies make for a difficult living situation. In this inclement weather, the city is forced to shut down leaving very few if any outlets for warm and affordable fun.
Old man winter can bring about the good, bad, and the ugly. What happens when this “ugly” affects your mood?
Seasonal depression also known as Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) was first termed in 1984 by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal and colleagues. Characterized as a major depressive disorder triggered by changes in the season, SAD affects approximately 6% of Americans. Signs and symptoms of SAD include changes in energy, lack/loss of interest in activities, low self-esteem, and poor mood. Similar to Bipolar disorder, SAD is characterized by intermittent and often revolving manic episodes followed by periods of abnormally high energy and activity lasting 2 weeks or longer.
SAD’s clinical presentation can vary depending on seasonal influence and genetic predisposition to mental illness. In the spring and summer months mania (high energy) is more prevalent before shifting to a state of melancholy during the fall and winter. Because of these similarities, it is often hard to discern and should be done so by a trained medical professional.
For Americans living in the northern states, health outcomes can be challenged by seasonal affective disorder especially for the poor and marginalized.
Compiling on things like more work and challenging tasks are usual coping mechanisms employed by those in denial. Options such as the gym, spa, or sauna have been advised methods for dealing with depression. But for those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds access to such therapies are expensive and limited.
‘Folx’s’ with SAD and living in poverty, are forced to experience the world from the position where ‘we’ require resources and access to the tools that govern our survival, our happiness, and our ability to thrive. This is worsened for people of Black, Brown, Women and LGBT experience. In an environment where unemployment, poor health, and violence run rampant, the signs and symptoms of depression are inevitable.
The cyclic nature involving the intersectionality between poverty and mental health is best explained through social determinants of health (SDOH), which carefully mentions the role
conditions in the places where people live, learn, work, and play affect their health risks and outcomes. Those experiencing seasonal affective disorder are at greater risks for homelessness, suicide, drug use, and criminal convictions. It is believed that during the winter crime is lowest, which possibly impacts how policy is implemented throughout the city. However, despite gruesome weather, crime is still a huge problem for the city of Rochester and crime surveillance reports no significant deviation from the summer months. This reveals that previous methods to restore “order” in the city have failed, and also provides insight into the targeting of specific demographics by law enforcement and gentrification. Poorer communities that are often comprised of Black and Brown people have fewer opportunities to break away from the confinement of depression. Perhaps, through all of this, we will gain a better understanding of seasonal depression and disparities in the discourse surrounding its prevalence, incidence, and severity?
How Can We Do Better?
Seasonal affective disorder does not have to be the dark, gloomy, and lonely place that it is made out to be. Instead, seasonal depression can be an opportunity to further our understanding of mental illness and how to best care for those impacted by it.
Current therapies for SAD include; cognitive behavioral therapy (for teaching coping mechanisms), exercise/small behavioral changes (studies show by running as little as 15mins/day can improve mood), light therapy (exposure to bright light to alter human mood and production of the sleep-regulating hormone melatonin), and antidepressants to help regulate brain neurochemistry.
Moreover, we can do our part by advocating for poorer communities to have improved access to the aforementioned therapies. In addition, improving access to the capital necessary for the development of sustainable community initiatives centered around health, wellness and progression. This can look something like 0% interest loans, grants for community organizers, and free higher education at every level. This also can look like community-wide forums where we discuss the interconnectedness between poverty, racism, and depression. Furthermore, I recommend city officials and community organizers to make sense of the interests and demands of inner-city youth, middle-aged, and elder communities when organizing activities during winter months. We can be better prepared to handle the nuances of SAD and mental health by remaining vigilant of the demands of our ever-changing city.

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