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Seasonal affective disorder isn't just the winter blues, experts say

According to behavioral health experts, seasonal affective disorder affects around 10 million Americans each year.
Seasonal affective disorder isn't just the winter blues, experts say
Posted at 1:17 PM, Jan 26, 2024

When the weather is gloomy and gray, or cloudy and absent of sun, we can often find ourselves daydreaming of summer and at a loss for vibrancy in our daily lives. For some, this could just be a case of the winter blues; but for others, it can be much more severe, and health experts say those people are suffering from a real condition that can steadily progress over time. 

This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, and it is actually a form of depression that happens at about the same time every year, or coincides with the seasons. 

Those experiencing SAD typically see symptoms during the fall or winter months when areas of the world can see shorter days and less daylight. 

An analysis from Johns Hopkins said the lack of sunlight can trigger chemical changes in the brain that cause symptoms of depression. 

Dr. Daniel Bober says this form of depression can prompt a number of behaviors and emotions. 

Bober has practiced psychiatry for over 15 years, and says this mood disorder affects around 10 million Americans annually. 

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Treatments for SAD vary from antidepressant pills to light therapy, but experts say no matter what treatment is decided on, it is important to seek medical help if you are experiencing any of the symptoms. 

Data has shown that women are affected more by this seasonal depression which can go on for weeks at a time, even into months and years, if not treated. 

Symptoms, Dr. Bober says, include weight gain, fatigue, and craving more carbohydrates in your diet. Bober says it's a very significant condition that can lead to serious cases of depression. 

Dr. Bober says the condition especially affects those who live very far north or very far south of the equator. In these areas, a shortening of the day, and lack of sunlight — especially during certain times of the year — occur most often. 

Those with a preexisting condition related to depression, such as those diagnosed by a doctor with bipolar disorder, can be found to be at greater risk for seasonal affective disorder. 

Dr. Bober says that for many, when the summer months arrive, they can see great improvements — but he cautions that there is actually another form of seasonal affective disorder that can begin in the spring and summer months, as well. This form of SAD has different symptoms, he says. 

If you suffer from the winter variety of SAD, Dr. Bober says a popular way to boost your mood is to gradually increase your light exposure in the morning hours over time to simulate sunlight. 

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