- Seasonal depression occurs when people feel sad or not as usual, usually when the seasons change.
- In most cases, SAD symptoms begin in late fall or early winter and disappear during the summer or spring months.
- Experts say cognitive behavioral therapy and light therapy can help.
As the days get colder and daylight dwindles, some Americans are sleeping too much, eating too much, gaining weight, and socially withdrawing or hibernating.
The symptoms are part of a condition called seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD or seasonal depression.
The National Institute of Mental Health defines seasonal depression as times when people feel sad or not feeling the way they normally do, usually when the seasons change.
Some people feel depressed when the days get shorter in the fall and winter, also known as the winter blues, and start to feel better in the spring when the daylight hours are longer.
These symptoms can lead to what healthcare professionals call a clinical level of depression, where feelings of sadness and other symptoms impact daily activities, said Kristie Norwood, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of Student Counseling. Hampton University Center.
Summer and Depression: Seasonal depression isn’t just for winter. Summer can also trigger a mood disorder.
How many people are affected by seasonal depression?
Nationally, seasonal depression affects 5% of the total population — its impact isn’t as broad as other psychological conditions, but the condition still exists, Norwood said.
Dr. Ankit Jain is a psychiatrist at Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in the Penn State Health System. He said that in most cases, SAD symptoms begin in late fall or early winter and disappear during the summer or spring months.
However, of those who suffer from seasonal depression, 10% may also suffer from it in the summer, Jain said.
What causes seasonal depression?
Christopher Hagan, a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Cornell College in Iowa, said medical professionals still don’t understand exactly what causes seasonal depression. They know, however, that the lack of daylight is part of it.
“If we do less of the things we love, see people less often, spend less time outdoors, exercise less or be less active, all of those things are going to contribute to depression in some people,” Hagan said. at USA TODAY. .
SAD Symptoms Include Restlessness, Weight Gain, and More
According to Jain and the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of fall and winter seasonal depression include:
- sleep too much
- Appetite changes, especially cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or lack of energy
For those with SAD in the spring or summer, symptoms include:
- Sleep disturbances (insomnia)
- small appetite
- Restlessness or anxiety
- Increased irritability
Does summer time have an impact on mental health?
Norwood of Hampton University said that once daylight saving time hits, a signal is sent to our brains that “something is happening”.
People who live on the East Coast and are used to lots of daylight may have trouble with these changes. We think we should be sleeping or resting, when in reality we are meant to be up and active even though it is dark outside.
Jain from Pennsylvania also said DST has a significant impact on people’s health.
The transition between daylight saving time and daylight saving time can disrupt sleep, which can lead to mood swings, especially in people already diagnosed with anxiety or depression, it said. he declares.
“When the weather changes…the brain is already struggling with balancing serotonin and melatonin levels,” he said. “Due to less sunshine during the winter, the struggle is heightened by daylight saving time. Our bodies are really struggling to adjust to the new light and the new time.”
Jain also referenced a 2017 Danish study which found that the transition from summer to standard time was associated with an 11% increase in depressive episodes; the episodes stopped over 10 weeks, the researchers found.
Is daylight saving time healthy for you? No, experts say, pointing to lost sleep
Time change : How to deal with the impact of a time change
How does light therapy help people with seasonal depression?
A common treatment for seasonal depression is light therapy, which has been used to treat seasonal depression for nearly 40 years, Jain said.
During light therapy, people are exposed to light every day during the winter months to compensate “for the decrease in natural sunlight during the darker months,” he said.
Patients are seated in front of a bright light box that emits 10,000 lux, which is one unit of illuminance. Typically, people sit in front of the boxes every day for about 30-45 minutes starting in the morning.
“These light boxes are about 20 times brighter than the usual indoor light,” he said. “Make sure when you buy these types of boxes that they contain UV filters, as UV can damage the skin (and) predispose you to skin cancer.”
Norwood, of Hampton University, warns that people consult a doctor before undergoing light therapy. There are common mistakes people make that could lead to health problems, she said.
“You don’t want to use tanning lamps,” Norwood said. “You don’t want to look directly at the light. It needs to be positioned down to minimize glare…And then do it for a while and also up because you don’t want to shock your system.”
And light therapy is not the only solution to alleviate the symptoms of seasonal depression. It’s also vital to be active and engage with more white people who are on light therapy, Norwood said.
Medications are also known to improve symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, including bupropion, Jain said.
Can tanning beds help people with seasonal depression?
Although it hasn’t been proven to help people with seasonal depression, some people seem to think that tanning beds can be used to combat it.
Medical experts say this is not the case and the risks far outweigh the benefits of using tanning beds to treat SAD.
Jain asked some patients to learn about tanning beds as a treatment for SAD. Several studies have been done on the subject and one in particular found that 80% of people who used indoor tanners still reported symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Some people have even reported using ultraviolet-emitting tanning beds to lessen symptoms, which may increase the risk of skin cancer, he said.
“The bottom line is no,” Jain said. “Tanning beds are not helpful and are not an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder.”
Hagan, of Cornell College, said it’s key to remember that seasonal depression is treatable, and if light therapy isn’t for you, cognitive behavioral therapy can help.
“If you’re clear that this happens every winter, you can get treatment, go to therapy, and continue to use those skills every year without necessarily having to go back to therapy every year,” he said.
If things get particularly bad, returning to therapy is also an option.
“It’s a way to learn those skills and prevent them or minimize their impact in the future,” he said.
Saleen Martin is a reporter on USA TODAY’s NOW team. She’s from Norfolk, Virginia – the 757 – and loves all things horror, witches, Christmas and food. Follow her on Twitter at @Saleen_Martin or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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