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Seasonal Depression (SAD) - Are Clevelanders More at Risk?

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Here in Northeast, Ohio, we’re accustomed to winter and all of the snow, frigid temps, and gray skies that come along with it. The days get shorter, though they tend to feel longer. It’s dark outside when we leave for work and its dark by the time we head home. If it’s a particularly rough winter here in Cleveland, we may get snow into March, April, or begrudgingly…even May.

If these circumstances leave you feeling down in the dumps, you are not alone. You may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder, or “SAD.”

What is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is “a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer.” SAD can occur during the summer months, but episodes are much less common.

Signs and Symptoms

If you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, you may show signs or symptoms of major depression including [NIH, 2019]:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of the winter pattern of SAD include [NIH, 2019]:

  • Having low energy
  • Hypersomnia
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Craving for carbohydrates
  • Social withdrawal (feel like “hibernating”)

How common is seasonal affective disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal depression is relatively common in the United States, affecting at least 10 million people. Ten to 20% of people may suffer from mild SAD. Women are diagnosed with SAD four times as often as men, and the depression typically begins early in adulthood. Children and teens may be affected by SAD, but it’s less likely. Seniors and older adults are least likely to experience it [psychologytoday.com].

Is seasonal affective disorder worse in Cleveland?

Though we currently have no hard and fast evidence to show that seasonal depression is worse among those living in the Cleveland area, we do know that geography plays an important role. The further north or south of the equator someone lives, the greater the chance they will experience seasonal depression. Also, people living in regions with more cloud cover are more likely to experience seasonal depression. So, if you have ever thought that the lack of sunshine during the winter months affects your mood, you are spot on—it absolutely does.

How is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) treated?

Luckily, there are ways to treat and manage seasonal affective disorder. The main types of treatment include medication, light therapy, psychotherapy, and vitamin D. Depending on the severity of the seasonal depression, a combination of these treatment options may be used. For further explanation of treatment types available, give us a call or visit nimh.nih.gov.

In addition to medication or therapy, there are several things you can do on your own to feel better. Make sure your blinds and curtains are open during the day to let natural daylight in. Try to get outside each day to benefit from natural sunlight. Though you’ll have to bundle up to face the cold temps, you’ll still benefit from the sun’s rays. Exercise also helps to increase your overall energy, decreasing stress and anxiety, both of which can make SAD symptoms worse. Staying active can help you feel better about yourself, which is a natural mood booster.

 

If you struggle with any of the signs or symptoms of seasonal depression, reach out for help. Seasonal affective disorder is often downplayed as “just a case of the winter blues,” but this is a real disease that often requires treatment. We’re a tough bunch here in Cleveland, but seasonal affective disorder can effect anyone. You are certainly not alone.