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Do you ever feel a little depressed when the weather is gloomy? Did you know that this feeling, if lasting for a number of weeks, can signify something more serious during seasons with less sunlight?
As sunsets come earlier and the amount of daylight reduces, people worldwide are affected by this change on a mood and behavioral level. This phenomenon is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) and is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and continuing until the spring and summer. While depressive episodes can occur in summer, they are much less common than winter instances of SAD.
SAD: A Public Health Issue
The American Journal of Public Health recognizes SAD as a public health issue with the most prominent symptoms of the disorder being drowsiness, fatigue and diminished concentration. This affects not only the individual’s job safety and performance, but public safety. A fatigued individual is more likely to have a negative impact on both personal and day-to-day relationships.
How Do You Know if You May Have SAD?
If you exhibit any of the following symptoms as sunlight reduces, you may have SAD:
- Gloomy outlook
- Feeling hopeless, worthless and irritable
- Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
- Low energy
- Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
- Carbohydrate cravings and weight gain
- Thoughts of death or suicide
What Can You Do to Counteract SAD?
The Mayo Clinic explains that we need more of what we crave in the darker months to help bring some relief from SAD – more light exposure. With light therapy, which can be accomplished using a light therapy box that imitates outdoor light, a 20-30 minute session each day can prove effective in fending off some of the symptoms listed above. While more light exposure can definitely improve symptoms including mood and energy level, it may not be the answer. Antidepressants or psychology counseling can supplement light therapy and the right combination can have you feeling at your best for the remaining fall and winter months.
If you think you may have SAD, make an appointment with your primary care provider, or with a therapist through a primary care referral, to be diagnosed.
Learn more about public health issues like SAD and how you can make an impact in combating them in Chamberlain University’s Master of Public Health degree program.