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This is Why You Get Depressed in the Winter

Do You Have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

As the days get shorter and darker, you might find yourself feeling the winter blues. If you're wondering whether you have seasonal affective disorder, this is what you need to know.

A Common Problem

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that more than 16 million people in the United States have more than one episode of major depression each year. For many of these people, these issues tend to occur as the weather begins to turn cold.

There are a number of obvious reasons why we might feel a little down in the dumps during the winter. Because it's cold outside, we can't enjoy some of our favorite outdoor activities. We may also feel stressed out about holiday responsibilities, financial limitations or awkward upcoming family gatherings. With all that said, research has uncovered some other common reasons why many people experience increased depression and low mood during the winter months.

For about 10 to 20 percent of the U.S. population, winter can trigger Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to the changing seasons. While they don't know the exact cause, experts believe SAD is caused by an alteration in Circadian rhythms and changes in melatonin and serotonin levels, all as a result of less exposure to daylight.

What Are the Symptoms?

For most people, the symptoms of SAD are so similar to those of traditional depression, it can be hard to distinguish between the two. According to the Mayo Clinic , SAD can trigger common symptoms of depression, including:

  • Low energy and difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling irritable and sluggish

  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness and low self-worth

  • Losing interest in activities you typically enjoy

  • Depression that persists throughout the entire day, every day

  • Changes in appetite and weight

  • Insomnia, hypersomnia or frequent waking

  • Thoughts of suicide or death

  • Social withdrawal

While these symptoms are also commonly associated with traditional depression, they may be a sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder if they occur in conjunction with seasonal changes.

What You Can Do

For people who appear to be suffering from SAD, medical professionals recommend one or a combination of the following:

  • Vitamin D

  • Light therapy

  • Medication

  • Psychotherapy

Medications typically include antidepressants, such as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). Light therapy centers on the idea of replacing the diminished sunshine of the winter months with regular exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, which is approximately 20 times more powerful than ordinary indoor lighting. Vitamin D may also be helpful, since diminished sunlight can leave people deficient. Psychotherapy is also incredibly effective, especially for patients who aren't exactly sure of the cause behind their depression.

Taking Action

Although it's perfectly normal to have some days when you feel down, you should take action if you experience prolonged depression. This is especially true if you have lost interest in things you used to enjoy, have experienced weight and appetite changes, have experienced thoughts of suicide or have turned to alcohol for relief.

While the winter blues are quite common, you shouldn't accept them as a fact of life. Instead of suffering through the cold season, reach out for help, so you can live better all year long.

Our caring therapists can help you overcome life's greatest challenges. Contact us today!