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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

If this winter you are feeling blue, gaining weight and waking up tired even though you might be sleeping more, you may have seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that affects an estimated half million people every winter.  It is caused by a biochemical imbalance due to the shortening of daylight hours and the lack of sunlight in winter.  Dr. Laura Shea, assistant professor of medicine psychiatry
at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield, explains the symptoms.

SOUND BITE:    “The symptoms are similar to what one would see in other types of depression, but we especially notice fatigue, increased need for sleep, low energy, lack of motivation, increased appetite, irritability, sadness, lack of enjoyment.  If you see suicidal tendencies, that’s a reason to certainly seek treatment, but you don’t always have that.”

Both men and women can have SAD, but it is more common in women and occurs more in adults than in children.  The disorder is more prevalent in the months of December, January and February when the hours of sunlight are shortest.  Dr. Shea explains some treatment options.

SOUND BITE:    “The treatments – light therapy and medication – are the best treatments.  But counseling, especially cognitive behavioral therapy works for any type of depression.  Some people head south for the winter, and the sunshine really does work.”

Dr. Shea says exercise such as taking a walk in the bright sunlight also can be helpful.  If individuals suffer from seasonal affective disorder and are not helped by bright sunlight and exercise, they should see their physician for evaluation and possible treatment.

This is Ruth Slottag at SIU School of Medicine in Springfield.