Published on January 14, 2021

Long, Dark Winter Days Can Trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder

Each year, during the winter days as the daylight decreases, some individuals may experience a mood disorder known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Also known as Seasonal Depression, SAD is considered a depressive episode which reoccurs the same time each year, usually in the fall, worsens during the winter months and ends as daylight increases in the spring.

“Researchers have discovered that 75 percent of SAD sufferers are women with the disorder, typically beginning in early adulthood,” said Michelle Lucchesi, M.A., L.L.P., therapist of the Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot. “However, SAD can also occur in men, children and adolescents.”

The National Institute of Mental Health has found that SAD occurs as a response to the decrease daylight during the winter months. Symptoms of SAD are similar to depression and may include: sadness; loss of interest in usual activities; difficulty concentrating; irritability; feeling tired; lack energy; weight gain, craving sweets and starchy food, and difficulty with sleep. While it is important to talk to a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment of SAD, light therapy is found to be the most effective treatment.

“Light therapy is an alternative to using antidepressant medications for those who have mild SAD and do not want to take medications,” explained Lucchesi. “Light therapy is used daily with individuals sitting for 30 minutes in front of a light box after waking up in the morning.”

It is recommended that individuals begin light therapy each fall when symptoms of SAD often set in and continue every day throughout the winter months. Lamps for light therapy are widely available and much more affordable than when they first were introduced years ago.

In addition to light therapy, additional options to help reduce symptoms of SAD include: spending time outside every day; eating a well-balanced diet; establishing a good sleep routine; getting at least 30-minutes of exercise a day, as well as staying socially connected with loved ones and community (as safely as possible during COVID-19).

Those needing additional help to overcome mood disorders such as SAD are encouraged to seek help from their health care provider. In addition, the Psychiatric Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP) mental health day program at MidMichigan Medical Center – Gratiot is available for those who need additional support. Those with questions may call (989)466-3253. Those interested in more information on MidMichigan’s comprehensive behavioral health programs may visit www.midmichigan.org/mentalhealth.

Adapted by Michelle Lucchesi MA L.L.P. from an article by Callie Neyer, M.A./L.P.C.