SPOKANE, Wash. - People often say they get depressed when they see the first snowfall; sure sign summer is over and winter is here. For those that have those feelings every day, coupled with other symptoms, it could be the sign of something greater. It's called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and 20% of people will experience mild symptoms each winter season.
Seasonal Affective Disorder can happen with every season change, but for the majority of people who suffer it hits the hardest as we head in to winter when the days become shorter and light is scarce.
Jeffrey Schack, a psychiatrist with Multicare Rockwood Behavioral Health said, “the critical times are usually between November and February, where we have low levels of light and we also get the cloud cover they get over in Seattle.”
Everyone is susceptible to the disorder that's categorized by feelings of sadness each day, low energy and weight gain. For those with family history, a separate mental health condition or a location far from the Equator; you may be increasingly likely experience it.
“It can make things harder if you have preexisting mental health issues, it can make those worse,” said Dr. Schack.
There is hope though.
“The primary thing is just getting more sunlight,” said Dr. Schack.
Why not use SAD as an excuse to take up a new winter activity like snowboarding? Or to do a good deed for an elderly neighbor.
“If you're shoveling snow you're getting 2 to 3 times more light than if the snow wasn't there,” explained Dr. Schack.
For those who can't get outside, he recommends getting the office with big window. If you can't do that, it might be time start light therapy.
“We recommend they get a light box and sit in front of that for 30 minutes,” said Dr. Schack.
They're called “Happy Lights, and are sold at most big box stores like Target and Fred Meyer. Each costs about $70.
If that's out of your price range, the company behind them Verilux, makes a light bulb version for your home the costs $10.
When is time to seek professional help? If you don't have a preexisting condition, doctor Schack recommends giving light therapy and some hours outdoors a try for about two weeks. If you don't notice a change, it may be time to consult a doctor for medication or other therapies.
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