County offers counseling for seasonal affective disorder


WOOD RIVER – If you experience symptoms of depression or low energy during the winter months, you may be one of the millions of Americans with seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is a type of depression that is related to seasonal changes, and SAD begins and ends at around the same times each year. Most people with SAD see symptoms start in the fall and continue through the winter months, sapping energy and making people cranky, according to the Mayo Clinic. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.

“SAD is characterized by depression which can begin with sleeping more, feeling exhausted and a lack of motivation,” Deborah Humphrey, executive director of the Madison County Mental Health Board, wrote in an email.

“There could be a change in not wanting to do these normal daily activities like taking care of yourself, family or going to work or school,” she said. “Untreated depression also causes people to isolate themselves socially. “


SAD is not considered a separate disorder but is a type of depression characterized by its recurring seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about four to five months per year. Not all people have the same symptoms, the National Institute of Mental Health wrote, although the signs and symptoms of SAD include those associated with major depression with some specific symptoms that differ for winter and summer SAD.

Millions of Americans can suffer from SAD, wrote the NIMH, although many go undiagnosed. SAD occurs much more frequently in women than in men and is more common in people living further north with shorter daylight hours during the winter months. In most cases, SAD begins in adulthood.

“The Christmas holiday season, when everyone experiences happiness, joy and peace during the holiday season, can also make depression worse when your mood doesn’t match the emotions other people are feeling,” Humphrey wrote. New Year’s Day is also approaching, which for some is the most depressing day of the year. While many celebrate the achievements of their later years, others reflect on their failures, unfulfilled goals or their lack of accomplishments. “

SAD is more common in people with major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder, especially bipolar II disorder, which is associated with recurrent depressive and hypomanic episodes. Additionally, people with SAD tend to suffer from other mental disorders, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Eating Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, or Panic Disorder.

SAD is sometimes familial, being more common in people who have relatives with other mental illnesses, such as major depression or schizophrenia.

Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications, and psychotherapy.

Symptoms of SAD include:

• Feeling depressed most of the day, almost every day

• Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed

• Experiencing changes in appetite or weight

• Have sleep problems

• Feeling lethargic or restless

• Have low energy

• Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

• Having difficulty concentrating

• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide.

Winter SAD can also involve specific symptoms, including:

• Too much sleep (hypersomnia)

• Eating too much, especially with a craving for carbohydrates

• Weight gain

• Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”).

Scientists still do not fully understand the causes of SAD, wrote the NIMH. Research indicates that people with SAD may have reduced activity of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. In people with SAD, the regulation of sunlight, which helps control the levels of molecules that help maintain normal levels of serotonin, causing serotonin levels to decrease during the winter.

Other studies suggest that people with SAD produce too much melatonin, a hormone that keeps the sleep-wake cycle normal. Overproduction of melatonin can increase drowsiness.

Serotonin and melatonin help maintain the daily rhythm of the body which is linked to the seasonal night-day cycle. In people with SAD, changes in serotonin and melatonin levels disrupt normal daily rhythms. As a result, they can no longer adapt to seasonal changes in the length of the day leading to changes in sleep, mood and behavior.

“During the winter season there is less sun,” Humphrey wrote. “Studies have shown that reduced light during the winter months can affect mood and cause depression.”

Vitamin D deficiencies can exacerbate these problems because vitamin D is believed to promote serotonin activity. In addition to the vitamin D consumed with the diet, the body produces vitamin D when it is exposed to the sun on the skin. With less daylight in winter, people with SAD may have lower vitamin D levels, which can further hamper serotonin activity.

Negative thoughts and feelings about winter and its associated limitations and stresses are common among people with SAD (as well as others). It is not clear whether these are “causes” or “effects” of the mood disorder, but they may be a useful treatment goal.

“If you have seasonal depression, there are things you can do to combat your depression,” Humphrey wrote. “If depression is immobilizing you, seasonal affective disorder therapy and other treatments for depression can help when you are feeling paralyzed with intense sadness, hopelessness, and emotional numbness.”

Some other advice Humphrey has given to those with SAD include:

• Get out of the house. Go outside. Take a walk, walking helps you relax when you’re overwhelmed, and sunlight can help with SAD. There is also light therapy when sun exposure is limited.

• If money allows, take a vacation somewhere warm.

• Eat a balanced diet with foods rich in vitamin D or take vitamin D supplements.

• Spend time with a close friend or a small circle of friends.

• Volunteer to help with a gift drive for the kids, serving food at Christmas dinner for the homeless

• Join a virtual peer support group or call IL Warm Line, “Hope Is Just A Phone Call Away”

• Speak with an advisor

• If depression worsens into suicidal thoughts, call the National Crisis Helpline at 1-800-273-8255 for help.


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