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Seasonal affective disorder a prevalent problem

February 2, 2010
By JULIA WOEHRER Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - A type of depression called seasonal affective disorder can be a problem for those living farther away from the equator, where winters last longer and days are shorter.

SAD often occurs in the fall and winter when people tend to stay inside more and sunlight can be sparse. These factors attribute to the lack of sunlight for many residents in regions like the Upper Peninsula.

Marquette General Behavioral Health therapist Karen Tuoriniemi Nelson said SAD is not the same as a major depressive disorder, because it only occurs during the winter and fall seasons and does not last for the entire year. Although it may seem temporary, it can occur every year for some people and last for months at a time.

Article Photos

Studying, reading or working by a window with the curtains and shades open can help lift a person's mood during the winter months, even if it is cloudy out. Getting enough light during the winter months can be a problem for those with seasonal affective disorder. (Journal photo by Julia Woehrer)

"It affects the way in which a person will eat, sleep and also the way that a person feels about themselves," Nelson said.

Four times more women get SAD than men and it often begins between 18 to 30 years old, although it can occur at any age, Nelson said.

A person with SAD may sleep longer than usual or wake up earlier that normal, and may lose interest in activities they tend to enjoy during other parts of the year.

The disorder may also cause a person to feel sad, anxious, fatigued, eat more than usual, have less energy and less enthusiasm. A person may also be pessimistic and notice diminished productivity and creativity at work, school or home.

When symptoms have continued regularly for more than a few weeks, a person may have SAD and Nelson recommends seeing either a general physician or a therapist for help.

Treatments vary from person to person. For some, one thing is needed, and for others a various treatments are needed.

"There's not one recipe for everybody ... it can be a potentially serious disorder if it's not treated," she said.

For those who are already on antidepressants but see their depression worsen in the winter, then their doctor might adjust the dosage accordingly, she said. Therapy and counseling are also options for those seeking treatment.

"That can help people outline specific problems that they are having, and to define a treatment plan for them and help them identify coping techniques," Nelson said.

Being proactive during day-to-day life can also improve a persons mood and help remove the winter blues, Nelson said, and can include something as simple as spending an hour or two outside every day, even if clouds are hindering the sun. This can include taking a walk.

"A walk during the middle of the day can provide exercise, socialization, recreation and light exposure," Nelson said.

Other forms of exercise, even if done indoors, can help improve a person's mood through improved self-esteem, sense of accomplishment and it also affects chemicals in the brain that can lead to increased happiness.

When at home or at work, sitting near a large window can help lift a person's mood, as well. If branches are blocking the window at home, trimming them can help provide optimal sunlight in the home.



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