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News & Events

Take steps to recognize and manage seasonal depression

Topic: News


By Susan Kozak For The News-Herald

As the season changes and daylight hours shorten, most people feel a little down and dread going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark. Usual outdoor activities either cease or are brought indoors.This lack of daylight is what has been determined to be the cause of seasonal depression for more than 3 million people in the U.S. each year. For some people, the effects are much more severe.

According to Mental Health America, about five percent of the U.S. population experiences seasonal depression and the majority, four out of five, are female. Geography plays a role, specifically, the further away people live from the equator, the higher their risk of developing seasonal depression.

Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD, usually starts in the fall and lifts in the spring. Sometimes, it may be difficult to distinguish depression from seasonal depression. One way is to monitor, and if the symptoms reoccur in the fall and diminish in the spring for at least two years, this is strong evidence of this disorder. Seasonal depression symptoms can be mild to severe. Many individuals with mild symptoms may be able to handle the symptoms with some self care while those with more severe symptoms should certainly discuss it with their physician.

What are the symptoms of seasonal depression?

  • Strong and noticeable increase in craving for sweets and other carbohydrates
  •  Being aware of and sensing the quality of sunlight changing
  • Wanting to sleep longer
  • Feeling sad or out of sorts for no real reason
  • Decrease in normal energy level or fatigue
  • Increased irritability or restlessness
  • The feeling of not getting a good night’s sleep
  • Craving for comfort foods
  • Anxious or “empty” feeling
  • Changes in weight

Getting help can greatly reduce symptoms. It’s always best to first discuss your symptoms with your doctor to ensure other possible causes are ruled out..

There is a great deal of information about light therapy, however, there is evidence that only about 50 percent of individuals with seasonal depression respond to light therapy. Anti-depressants and talk therapy can dramatically reduce symptoms, either alone or combined with light therapy.

There are also a number of self care steps that can be taken to help reduce symptoms.

  • Try light therapy. Specific lights for seasonal depression can be found online or your physician may have other sources to purchase a therapy lamp. The type and strength of the light is key.
  • Take a walk on sunny days whenever possible, even for 15 minutes.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Try and ensure good sleep habits by going to bed and getting up at the same time.
  • Avoid alcohol before sleep.
  • Work at resisting food cravings and eat more mood-boosting foods such as turkey and oily fish.
  • Reduce your stress level whenever possible.
  • Make sure you communicate with loved ones and avoid isolation.
  • Take a trip to a sunny location.

It helps to remember that seasons change and longer days of light will come again with spring. Although this may not necessarily make the symptoms better, it is good to know that it won’t last forever.

Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.