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Be Aware of SAD Symptoms this Winter

By Dawn Lillard, RN BSN

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is associated with the seasons of the year. Symptoms typically begin in October or November and subside in March or April. SAD is most common among young adult women (so think about your staff members, too), although it can affect men or women of any age.

Typical characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, loss of energy, anxiety, and craving for sugar or starchy foods which contributes to weight gain. SAD can also include the usual features of depression such as irritability, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal.

Changes in environmental light are thought to have an effect on people with SAD. The farther north (where there are longer, harsher and darker winters) a person with SAD lives, the longer and more profound the depression. Persons with SAD also report that their depression worsens whenever the weather is overcast at any time of the year, or if their indoor lighting is decreased. (Think about our homes and our facility’s levels of light.)

Lifestyle changes may help prevent or improve the symptoms of mild SAD:

o Spend at least 30 minutes outside every day.

o Take daily walks (or other physical activity), preferably outside.

o Increase indoor lighting with regular lamps and fixtures.

More severe cases require medical treatment which may consist of bright-light therapy. Special bright-light therapy produces such as light panels, boxes, and visors are available for purchase with costs ranging from $200 to $500. Tanning beds should NOT be used for bright-light therapy as they do not filter out harmful ultraviolet waves. Improvement in symptoms may begin within a few days or it may take up to 3 to 4 weeks.

If symptoms improve only slightly or not at all with bright-light therapy, antidepressant medications and traditional psychotherapy may be included in treatment.

If you or someone you know has depressive symptoms severe enough to significantly affect his/her daily living, consult a mental health professional qualified to treat depression. There is help available.

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