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A Few Thoughts on Seasonal Affective Disorder

written by, Kate Oliver, MSW, LCSW-C

seasonal affective disorder

seasonal affective disorder (Photo credit: Evil Erin)

This is the time of year when, like many clinicians, I see a spike in the number of people calling for first time appointments. One of the reasons for this is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD can impact both adults and children.

At it’s core, SAD is a kind of depression that occurs at a certain time of year. If you have ever heard people talk about the “winter blues,” they are typically referring to SAD. Two issues I see which keep people from seeking treatment for SAD is that they worry about being put on medication, and that they have normalized feeling blue at this time of year. If this is you, please allow me to educate you about some of your easy, quick, medication-free options that you might want to try.

1. In the United States, there is an epidemic of people who have lower than optimal Vitamin D levels. Vitamin D is that essential nutrient we get from the sun that, among other benefits, helps us to regulate our moods. As people spend more time indoors, and get better about using sunblock and covering their skin in the sun, we also end up getting less Vitamin D in our system which impacts our mood. We are more prone to this in the winter months. Your Vitamin D level is a quick and easy thing to test. If you have a regular doctor, you can contact them and ask them to test you for your Vitamin D levels. If you do not have a doctor, there are in-home kits you can order off the internet.

2. Talk to your physician about a sun lamp. These are special lamps that produce light which mimics the sun and, for people impacted by a change in the seasons, they also help to even out your moods. You can even purchase them inexpensively online.

English: A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (I...

English: A 30 kHz bright light therapy lamp (Innosol Rondo) used to treat seasonal affective disorder. Provides 10,000 lux at a distance of 25 cm. Suomi: 30 kilohertsin kirkasvalolamppu (Innosol Rondo) kaamosmasennuksen hoitoon. Kirkkaus 25 senttimetrin päässä 10 000 luksia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

3. Take fish oil. Iceland, a nation where people experience shorter days and longer periods of darkness has one of the lowest levels of depression anywhere, why? The eat fish like it’s candy around there! Okay, maybe not like candy, but they do eat a lot of fish and fish oil specifically has been linked to reducing depression. Obviously, you want to check with your doctor before starting this, especially if you have any seafood allergies or if you have any blood related issues especially as fish oil can change the clotting of your blood.

4. Try therapy. You might not have SAD. Just because you experience depression around this time of year it does not necessarily mean you have SAD. I see many people who, around the anniversary of a specific trauma, experience some symptoms consistent with depression. If you have a loved one that passed away this time of year, you might be missing them more. Even if they didn’t pass away this time of year, if you have specific memories linked to this time of year (this happens a lot around holidays), you might be sad thinking about them. Death is not the only trigger, perhaps you experienced the loss of a job, a relationship, or something else around this time of year. If you have not resolved those losses to the point of acceptance, you may just be getting triggered to remember that particular feeling and your brain is giving you a chance to resolve the issue now. I find that seeing a good therapist is essential in this process and that some people who have told me they have SAD have actually, via therapy, addressed and resolved old issues that pop up around this time of year making it so that they did not experience SAD the following year.

For more about Seasonal Affective Disorder from the experts, please check out the link below from Everyday Health.

November 8, 2012 - Posted by | counseling, mental health | , , , , , , ,

10 Comments »

  1. Very interesting article, thank you, and very timely. The symptoms are quite specific. I’ve heard people say the vitamin D treatment involves painful injections ( in the buttocks of all places!)- any alternative for a needle- phobic?
    The sun lamps- are they more placebo or is the light they emit actually equivalent to sunshine?

    Comment by GorillaParenting | November 8, 2012 | Reply

    • Hi there, I’ve missed your posts. Thanks for asking. Are you sure you aren’t thinking of B vitamin shots? In my experience, D vitamin deficiency treatment consists of a pill-form megadose of D vitamin (the pill isn’t even very big) or just adding a D vitamin supplement to you daily regimen. I do know physicians prescribe the sun lamps (even though you can also just buy them) and know a number of people who have significantly benefited from using them.

      Comment by help4yourfamily | November 10, 2012 | Reply

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