Donya Currie is the editor of The Free Lance-Star's Healthy Life section and Healthy Life Virginia newsletter.

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More than SAD

The heading on this post could easily describe how I feel about the shootings in Arizona. But my focus here is on health, and not long ago, I asked Dr. Christopher Lillis what kinds of problems he’s treating a lot of these days. I expected to hear about stomach bugs or strep or colds — you know, seasonal stuff.

His answer surprised me: Depression.

I’ve blogged before about Seasonal Affective Disorder, which the Mayo Clinic describes as a kind of depression that occurs at the same time every year — usually fall and/or winter. But that’s not what Lillis was talking about.

“The thing is that this time of year, it’s not just the lack of sunlight that leads people to be depressed,” said Lillis, a local internist and Healthy Living columnist.

The holidays can trigger or compound depression if family relationships are rocky, he noted. The holidays also can remind people of significant losses; maybe, as Lillis said, you’re sad because this was your first Christmas without Grandpa. Economic stress can be another underlying source of depression.

“It’s difficult to reduce it to one factor,” Lillis said.

Lillis said it’s important to examine all the stressors in a person’s life; he cautions against looking “for simple explanations to complex problems, because then people will get their hopes up that if they just have sunlight … their depression will go away. Meanwhile, they’re ignoring the fact that they’ve been fighting with their spouse for a couple of years, and it’s starting to get to them.”

What’s his RX? Depending on the patient, some or all of these things can be helpful: Exercise, social contact, meditation, yoga, counseling and medication. “But certainly, the first principle is just good self-care. Make sure you’re getting a healthy diet and a good night’s sleep,” Lillis said.