Feeling "SAD" During the Winter Months?

Thursday, January 07, 2010 | 08:42am

NASHVILLE – The winter season temporarily brings about cold temperatures, dreary days and feelings of prolonged sadness for many Tennesseans. These feelings may be caused by a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which tends to occur more often in winter months, especially January and February.

It is now estimated that 4 to 6 percent of the population suffers from SAD. The disorder is four times more common in women than in men, but, when present, men may have more severe symptoms. Young adults are also more likely to suffer from SAD, but it is uncommon in people under 20.

SAD is a mood disorder that follows a pattern related to seasonal variations in sunlight. Along with feelings of sadness and depression, symptoms include change in appetite, excessive need for sleep, cravings for sugary and/or starchy foods, and avoidance of social situations. If a person experiences these symptoms, a mental health expert can accurately diagnose SAD and treatment options can then be explored.

Health care professionals may recommend one of the following treatments for persons diagnosed with SAD:

• Increased Light Exposure. Symptoms of SAD are often triggered by a lack of exposure to light and tend to drastically decrease, or even go away completely, when light exposure increases. Spending time outside during the morning hours when sunlight is strongest, brightening up your living area by opening curtains or blinds, and getting plenty of exercise are all good ways to increase light exposure and decrease symptoms.

• Light Therapy. More severe symptoms of SAD may be treated with light therapy, also known as phototherapy, which involves the use of a special light that simulates daylight. Light therapy doesn’t always have immediate results and may require regular use over an extended period of time. The amount of light needed to reduce or eliminate symptoms varies by person.

• Medication. Medications, such as antidepressants, may be prescribed for individuals with SAD depending on the intensity and duration of the symptoms and their impact on personal functioning.

If you think you or someone you know may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is best to consult your health care provider.

“If you are diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are action steps you can take to help relieve and overcome your symptoms,” stated Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities’ Commissioner Virginia Trotter Betts. “First and foremost, follow your health practitioner’s recommendations, get plenty of exercise, maintain proper nutrition, and stay involved in activities with family and friends. These actions are worth their effort to promote your health and mental health.”

For additional resources and mental health and substance abuse information, please contact the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities’ Office of Communications at (615) 253-4812 or visit www.tn.gov/mental.


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