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Think you may suffer from the “Winter Blues”? Keep reading! Our Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Erin Hodgson, has shared some information about Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As always, reach out to us if you or a loved needs a little support.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a major depressive disorder with a seasonal pattern that typically improves during spring/summer months. That is, a period of 2 weeks or greater where an individual experiences a variety of symptoms which may include:

*Feeling sad, empty, or helpless
*Appearing tearful or irritable to others
*Reduced interest or enjoyment in nearly all activities most days
*Changes in weight without intention
*Troubles sleeping or marked increase in sleeping
*Physical restlessness or slowed movement
*Feeling tired/fatigue nearly every day
*Feeling worthless or guilt
*Difficulties with concentration most days
*Thoughts of death, suicide, or self-harm

SAD is linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain that is affected by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight causing a shift in circadian rhythm, occurring more often in places further from the equator (ahem…Iowa). Symptoms often persist for nearly 40% of the year (months preceding and following the winter solstice) and is more common in men than women.

So, how can we treat SAD?

Light Therapy – Exposure to bright light through a light therapy box (these filter out harmful UV rays) – usually 20 minutes or more per day can be helpful. Improvement is typically seen after 2 weeks of treatment with continued use throughout the winter/early spring months. It is often helpful to begin light therapy in the early fall to reduce symptoms. Not interested in a light box? Spend time each day sitting in a window or outdoors (weather permitting).

Psychotherapy – Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) administered by a licensed health care professional can help to better understand the thoughts and behaviors that contribute to the depressed mood, and can help to change or modulate these.

Medication – Often selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed by a licensed professional. Medication works best if started prior to the start of symptoms (early fall) and are continued into the warmer/increased daylight months. If you already take a medication like this, talk to your provider about the option of increasing prior to winter months of prone to more seasonal depression. Never change or increase your medication without talking to your provider first.

Behavioral Improvements – Eat healthy (reduced sugary, carbohydrate rich foods that lead to increased cravings), routine exercise, working to improve sleep, and staying engaged socially – this may mean exploring new hobbies or interests that include others such as exercise classes, group lessons, and/or volunteering – may be helpful.

If you are feeling severe depression or suicidal thoughts, immediately contact your mental health provider, seek care at a local emergency room, or contact the national suicide line at 988. You are not alone. Your life matters!