By Ernst Lamothe Jr.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of recurrent depression that occurs during the winter months where there is less sunlight throughout the day.
With the season patterns varying, people who suffer from the condition often don’t feel like themselves and can have a sense of lethargic behavior and overall depression.
“Seasonal affective disorder is an essential topic now based on our current hemisphere,” said Samantha Goutermout, a nurse practitioner from Fulton PrimeCare at Oswego Health. “It can be very difficult because this is a condition that people don’t pay enough attention to. It can lead to feeling isolated and various mental health issues.”
Goutermout gives five facts about seasonal affective disorder.
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include feeling listless, sad or down most of the day, nearly every day, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, having low energy and feeling sluggish and sleeping too much. In addition, people can experience carbohydrate cravings, overeating and weight gain, difficulty concentrating, feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty and having thoughts of suicide.
“When you have people who are battling through SAD, you can see substance abuse issues, eating disorders and real suicidal thoughts,” she said. “We see people who tend to either have trouble sleeping or sleeping too much. They may have weight loss or weight gain issues and can become agitated and irritable.”
Too often because the condition is not always recognizable to others, there are various stereotypes that have emerged. It can range from people simply calling it the “winter blues” or thinking that people should recover once they see some sunlight during the day.
“There is a reason why people don’t just snap out of it. Research has shown that many factors play into someone having SAD,” said Goutermout. “SAD should be looked at in the same limelight as any other mental health disorder. In general, more women are diagnosed with SAD than men. It occurs more in younger adults than older and those with family history may be at risk.”
3. Light therapy
A light therapy box mimics outdoor light. It’s thought that this type of light may cause a chemical change in the brain that lifts your mood and eases other symptoms of SAD, such as being tired most of the time and sleeping too much.
“Light therapy can be a fantastic treatment. I would say it is one of the first lines of defense,” said Goutermout. “It really helps those dealing with diminished sunlight in the winter time. This is something that should be done 30 to 40 minutes in the beginning of the morning. The only caveat is that we believe this should be done with the help of a medical professional instead of simply buying something on Amazon. We would recommend light therapy but we would not recommend tanning beds which some people turn to.”
Generally, the light box should provide an exposure to 10,000 lux of light and produce as little UV light as possible.
“People dealing with seasonal affective disorder may want to start treatment before the start of the season and that way they can hopefully create a rhythm for themselves,” she said.
4. Mental health
While people are talking about mental health more that doesn’t mean there aren’t still hurdles. No one is immune to mental health problems. People at all levels of social, occupational or economic status can experience a mental illness.
“Mental health is an issue that people need to talk more about and feel comfortable openly discussing in the same way people talk about diabetes or their blood pressure,” said Goutermout. “Mental health disorders such as SAD and depression have been treated regularly in our offices and around the world during the last couple of years.”
5. Seek medical help
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if the feelings persist and motivation becomes difficult each day, experts say you shouldn’t try to handle the situation by yourself. They suggest seeking out a health care professional, especially if your sleep and eating habits have changed dramatically and you feel thoughts of suicide.
“Many people may be afraid to have a mental health diagnosis because people are worried that others will look at them differently” Goutermout. “But it has become a topic of conversation and we are still learning and improving in the mental health field. If you suspect you may be suffering from SAD, you really need to have a conversation with a physician. If you feel like you have low energy and are overly sluggish along with the other symptoms we mentioned you should consider seeing a professional.”