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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Annual depressions worsened by weather change

Fall in the Copper Country can be a rough time for many. The weather gets colder, the days get shorter, and people may start feeling down unexplainably. The explanation may be Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD.

In an article on HCA Midwest Health’s website called “Could It Be Seasonal Affective Disorder,” discussed what Seasonal Affective Disorder is, how and who it affected, and what can be done about it.

HCA Midwest Health suggests that if your mood predictably darkens every year with the fall weather changes and sticks around through the winter, you may be suffering from SAD. SAD’s symptoms can manifest first as noticeable increased sluggishness and mild depression, to being nearly unable to function.

The National Institute of Mental Health also adds that depressive bouts brought on by the seasonal change to summer are possible, but are far more rare. The NIMH notes that SAD symptoms are similar to major depression, and these symptoms following the seasons are key to proper treatment and diagnosis. One of the largest differences is that SAD does not usually trigger self-destructive thoughts such as suicide or self-depression, which major depression is more likely to do.

SAD is mostly attributed to the lack of sunlight in later months of the year that can affect the body’s chemistry and increase, worsen, or cause depression. HCA Midwest says that roughly half of those diagnosed with SAD have recurring issues with it annually, so it is important to recognize the signs and seek treatment. Only about 6% of Americans suffer from SAD.

A more in-depth look at SAD symptoms include: fatigue, increased tiredness, loss of energy, weight gain, increased appetite, lack of concentration, and increased isolation.

SAD is caused by a lack of sunlight, altering the body’s chemistry, particularly by releasing large amounts of melatonin, the sleep-inducing hormones. When the lights go out earlier, it signals that it’s time for the human body to go sleep. This altering of chemical scheduling can have negative repercussions for those at risk of SAD.

Dr. Marissa Argubright, a family practice physician with the College Park Family Care Center, says, “Individuals who are between the ages of 20 and 30 years old, who have a previous history of depression and/or anxiety and those who live at higher northern latitudes are at increased risk of developing SAD. Individuals who suffer from conditions such as ADHD, eating disorders and social anxiety disorder are also at increased risk of experiencing SAD.” NIMH adds that women are four times more likely to be diagnosed with SAD as well.

Many young workers and university students in the Copper Country, and the U.P. in general, may find themselves highly susceptible.

The HCA Midwest recommends talking to your doctor if you believe you may suffer from SAD.

“The first-line treatment of SAD consists of antidepressant medications. Depending on the severity of an individual’s symptoms, prior treatment history and preferences, light therapy and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy can also be added for improved symptom management. Some patients choose seasonal treatment while others opt for continuous treatment if they feel their symptoms are severe enough to warrant a prolonged treatment regimen. It’s very important to follow up with your physician while being treated for SAD and maintain a good working relationship to optimize treatment outcome,” Dr. Argubright said.

Having a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, and maintaining a healthy sleeping schedule, and plenty of Vitamin D are also important when fighting SAD. Vitamin D is believed to be important to serotonin activity. According to Healthline, serotonin is a chemical naturally produced by the body that reduces depression and anxiety, helps heal wounds faster, stimulates nausea, and maintains bone health.

If you have noticeably worse depression or suffer from the symptoms mentioned above during the dark months, you are not alone and it is nothing to be ashamed of. Do not suffer in silence; talk to your doctor and play it safe.

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