Feeling down? It could be more than winter blues.
- Seasonal affective disorder is depression that typically starts in the winter and ends by spring or summer.
- It can be treated by increasing light exposure, either from the sun or an artificial light source.
Feeling down lately?
With gray, rainy days and frigid weather, winter can be pretty gloomy, but for many the weather affects not just mood but mental health through something called seasonal affective disorder, or SAD.
Symptoms mirror clinical depression and include a lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed, lack of energy, difficulty focusing and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts. However, unlike its year-round counterpart, SAD is followed by a “spontaneous recovery” in spring or summer, WellSpan Health Dr. Pradipta Majumder said.
“You have to ask if there’s a nonseasonal pattern,” said Majumder, a psychiatrist at WellSpan Behavioral Health. “Do you have any depression that was not in the time of winter? If that’s the case, then it’s not usually seasonal affective disorder.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, SAD prevalence ranges from 9.7 percent in New Hampshire to 1.4 percent in always-sunny Florida.
Shorter days mean leaving for work before the sun comes up and leaving the office after it’s gone down. Not the best way to get mood-brightening sunlight in, Majumder said.
However, SAD can be managed with proper treatment. The most popular way to treat patients suffering from SAD is with light therapy, Majumder explained.
“It helps when winter is actually coming to try to go to the sun as much as possible.”
Sunlight can brighten a gloomy day, but it can make all the difference for someone going through SAD.
An hour or two outside should do, but sunscreen is still important.
“Getting some sun directly for an hour or two three times a week would be very helpful,” he said. “Keep the blinds open. If you have a lot of trees around ...trim the tree branches, because they block the sun. Take a long walk, and maybe eat lunch in the park.”
Light therapy devices can be bought for home use on those days it’s just too cold or wintry to go outside. The therapy should take between 30 minutes and two hours a few times a week, according to NIH.