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How to Combat Seasonal Affective Disorder

 

In the depths of winter, more people say they feel tired or depressed. For some, it’s a normal response to less sunlight. Just the winter blues. For others, it can be a deeper, clinical form of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that’s a regular pattern of mood changes that leaves people feeling gloomy during the fall and winter months, when there’s less natural sunlight each day.

If someone you’re caring for is suffering from SAD, it might seem like they’re hibernating. They tend to lose interest in activities they used to enjoy. Symptoms may include sadness, feeling hopeless, worthless, or irritable, low energy, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, carbohydrate cravings and weight gain, and thoughts of death or suicide. Without treatment, the symptoms usually last until the days start getting longer.  

 Since depression can be trickier to spot in individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism, and SAD is a form of depression, caregivers should realize that SAD may manifest in different ways. While people suffering from SAD may be less active when frustrated or feeling hopeless, it’s possible that someone with ID might bang his head or exhibit other behaviors. 

The exact causes of SAD are not clear. But researchers have found that people with SAD may suffer from an imbalance of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects mood. Their bodies may make too much melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, and not enough vitamin D.

The people most at risk for Seasonal Affective Disorder tend to be younger females who live far from the equator and come from families with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or SAD.

In the early 1980s, researchers first discovered a link between light and seasonal depression. They pioneered the light therapy, which has become a first line treatment for SAD. With light therapy, patients sit in front of a light box every morning for at 30 minutes or more, according to a doctor’s recommendation. The light shines brighter than normal indoor lighting and relieves symptoms in up to 70 percent of patients after a few weeks of treatment.

A town in Norway took light therapy to a new level. Three huge mirrors stand on the mountainside above the town of Rjukan, according to Mosaic. The mirrors are mounted in such a way that it turns to track the sun while continuously reflecting its light down to the town square.

Studies also show that certain antidepressants can help treat SAD and prevent winter gloom. And mounting evidence shows that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy, can also help people with SAD. It involves identifying patterns and errors in one’s way of thinking and challenging them, according to Kelly Rohan, a psychologist and SAD expert. Patients with SAD might rephrase thought such as “I can’t do anything in winter” to “It’s harder for me to do things in winter, but if I plan and put in effort, I can.” Therapy can also involve finding activities that a person wants to do in the winter to pull out of “hibernation” mode.

Whether you or someone you’re caring for suffers from SAD, know that you can change your thinking and behavior and feel a bit better at this time of year. And with your help, they may be able to feel better too.


Mood Lifters

If you’re a parent or caretaker of someone who shows signs of having Seasonal Affective Disorder or perhaps experiencing it yourself, these tips from the National Institutes of Health can help lighten the effects of seasonal depression.

  • Go to a movie, take a walk in a park, go do some other activity you normally enjoy.
  • Get out in the sunlight or brightly lit spaces, especially early in the day.
  • Spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.
  • Eat nutritious foods. Avoid overloading on carbohydrates like cookies and candy.
  • Be patient. You won’t snap out of depression. But your mood can improve gradually.
  • See a mental health professional if sadness doesn’t go away or interferes with your daily life.

National Alliance on Mental Illness – Philadelphia
5 strategies to beat caregiver depression
Low-cost cognitive providers therapy by state
Health care centers in Philly

A More Inclusive Hiring Process Welcomes Neurodiverse Workers

Companies are beginning to actively recruit neurodiverse people, according to Here & Now.

“There’s just a lot of talent out there,” said Neil Barnett, director of Inclusive Hiring and Accessibility at Microsoft. “More and more companies are seeing that.”

As we pause to honor civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., let’s take a look at a small trend but long-awaited trend. Companies are finally beginning to welcome neurodiverse people to the workplace. Different human wiring in neurodiverse populations translates into neurological differences that show up in dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, Tourette Syndrome, and others, according to the National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University.

According to Harvard Business Review, a rising number of companies have made their HR processes more inclusive to accommodate neurodiverse talent. They include SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and Ford. The longest running program is SAP’s, which started in 2013.

Underestimated workers

People often underestimate the neurodiverse even though they may have the skills for a job. Prospective employers tell them they are not a culture fit. Sometimes fidgeting or a failure to make eye contact during a traditional interview process can take a person out of the running. Given the requirements of typical interview processes, perhaps it is not a surprise that most people with autism are unemployed.

According to the Boston Globe, advocates see the neurodiversity movement as a civil rights issue. These aren’t disorders, they argue, they just reflect normal variation in humans. And these people should be accommodated.

More inclusive hiring process

Because the traditional interview process is even more of a challenge for people on the autism spectrum, Microsoft tweaked its hiring process to “screen people in” in a more inclusive way said Barnett, who leads Microsoft’s Autism Hiring Program.  

Under the Autism Hiring Program, candidates can come and be themselves and showcase their skills over a five-day period, said Barnett. The company lets candidates get to know each other and the hiring team. They do team exercises, like using marshmallows and toothpicks to build a bridge. This gives Microsoft a way to assess a person’s demonstrated capacity for teamwork. And the applicants spend time doing practice interviews. Instead of one day of back-to-back interviews, they spread it out over two days.

Benefits of neurodiverse workers

There are benefits to including neurodiverse workers in your workforce. Neurodiverse people see the world differently, according to John Elder Robison, an advocate and author with Asperger’s syndrome. That can give them a competitive advantage in certain fields. With autism, for example, people may spot patterns that other people cannot. Such a neurological gift can help people test software for bugs and errors.

Companies have profited from lower product defect rates and higher productivity of neurodiverse workers, according to Harvard Business Review. And at SAP, neurodiverse employees helped develop a technical fix that saved an estimated $40 million.

Sometimes accommodations for neurodiverse employees benefit all workers. Because autistic employees don’t necessarily catch nuances or irony, corporate communications at one company became more direct and clear overall.

When he talks to companies that are looking into recruiting neurodiverse workers, Barnett said he always frames the discussion in terms of the benefits to the business. “This is not charity,” Barnett told Here & Now. “This is business impact.”

To learn more:
More companies are seeking out neurodiverse job candidates
Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage  
What is neurodiversity?
Companies tap into an underused but highly capable workforce

All in the Family: Casmir Staffer Cares for Cousin and Brother

For Philadelphia resident Sharon Smith, working for Casmir Care Services is a family affair.

As a social service aide, she cares for her first cousin, Gerard, 44, and her brother, Eddie, who is 58. Casmir Care Services provides professional in-home and community care that helps enrich the lives of people with disabilities, individuals recovering from illness or injury, and adults with special needs.

Gerard recently received a Casmir Champion Award in recognition of his 10-year relationship with Casmir Care Services Inc. 

Sharon is one of about 40 people who are both Casmir staff and family members.

“Working with Casmir Care has been very pleasant,” Sharon says, citing staff support and the community. When her brother lands in the hospital, they reach out to check up on him and her. “They’ve almost become like a family,” she says.

 

Gerard accepts an award from Chetachi Dunkley-Ecton, CEO of Casmir Care (left) and Godwin Nwoga, Dir. of Operations (right).

Structure improves quality of life

Casmir started caring for her cousin 10 years ago. A few years later, Sharon joined as a staff member. Before coming to Casmir, she had worked in the mental health field for more than 20 years, but helping her cousin was her first experience working with a family member. Casmir has cared for her brother for 7 or 8 years.

These days, Sharon helps both her cousin and brother with day-to-day needs, including bathing, laundry, groceries, and getting them out into the community. Since her brother wants to learn to read and write, she’s helping him on that front too.  

Gerard is a bit more independent, although he still has the mindset of a child. And while people may have trouble understanding her brother, Sharon notes that his main problem is health problems like heart issues.

Before coming to live with Sharon, her cousin lived with his mother. Gerard was used to coming and going as he pleased and “doing his own thing,” she recalls.  He would go to bed when he wanted. After his mother got sick and left, he came to live with Sharon, who provided structure that he wasn’t used to. For instance, she makes sure he bathes regularly.

These days, another clear improvement, she says, is that he doesn’t elope as often.

In the old days, he wandered off almost daily, sometimes getting beat up.

Sharon credits the structure and hands-on support from staff for making a difference. Gerard sees the same faces over and over. Three times a week, he goes to a day program that gives him a chance to be among peers, doing little jobs. And he sees a behavioral specialist once a week.

 

Really listen to what they have to say

When you’re a caregiver for someone with intellectual disabilities, Sharon says, really listening to what they have to say can be helpful. Treating people with disabilities as a person who has a point to make can help you serve them better, she says.

For example, Gerard dreams of driving tractor trailers. But because of his intellectual disability, this dream isn’t likely to become a reality. But there are ways to support and encourage his interest, says Sharon. She and others take him to go see trucks. Two of her older brothers are truck drivers who let Gerard sit in their trucks and mess with stuff in there, she said. And sometimes when they go to work, they take him along.

Listening closely to his desires and his wants, says Sharon, is a way to support his interests, because getting that input helps others support him in tangible ways.

Our Vision

A strong health care agency with the capability of sustaining and extending quality health care services to all intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals in Pennsylvania and surrounding states.

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4950 Parkside Ave, Suite 400,
Philadelphia, Pa 19131
Phone: 267-292-3116
Fax: 267-292-4879
support@casmircares.com

About Us

Our goal is to ensure peace of mind for families and loved ones who are faced with the challenges of placing relatives in nursing homes and other treatment facilities. We offer a wide array of non-medical services tailored to the unique needs of the individuals we care for.