Seasonal affective disorder: The ‘winter blues’ are a serious issue

Category:  Opinions
Wednesday, February 14th, 2018 at 6:47 PM

It’s winter time again and with the sun being out far less, you find yourself feeling drained of energy like you just ran a marathon. The twist? You’ve only just woken up for the day. 

You sleep more than seven hours at night, eat well and exercise, but your body desires an unending supply of carbs, and before finishing one midday nap, you’re already dreaming about the next one you can fit in.

You tell others that you just can’t get well rested, no matter how much you sleep. But then winter leaves and spring comes, bringing with it the warm sunny days and to your surprise, the return of your energy levels. 

For nearly 10 percent of the population living in the northern reaches of the United States, this is a yearly phenomenon, but for others, it seems to be that your friend, coworker or family member is just lazy during the winter. This isn’t the case at all, and in fact, there is a name for such a condition: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). 

The term SAD was originally coined in 1984 by Norman E. Rosenthal and a group of his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health. It was used to categorize a spike in depressive episodes during a certain season, most commonly winter, which often mimicked the symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder.

The issue that comes with this disorder is that while it is overall predictable in that it generally comes around the same time each year, there has yet to be any agreed upon cause. 

The most plausible reason given for it is a lack of vitamin D, which tends to cause people to feel lethargic in a way that is similar to depression. Essentially, the farther north you live the less sun exposure you get and therefore the less vitamin D you take in.

However, this is not to say that simply taking some vitamins will cure SAD, but there is a possibility that it can help. 

Another possibility is that due to the lack of light, the body may be confusing this darkness as night, thus causing the body to produce excess amounts of melatonin. Melatonin is the hormone that regulates sleep, which means that this excess will leave a person feeling sleepier and possibly with a delayed circadian rhythm.

The last likelihood is that an increased presence of serotonin transporter proteins are leaving those with SAD experiencing lower serotonin levels leading to a decrease in overall mood.

One thing closer to certain, however, is the list of commonalities associated with those who experience the disorder. 

Some of these include having a family history of other types of depression, age (20-30 most commonly) and finally, distance from the equator. 

Much like depression, however, there are options if you are one of those suffering from SAD. 

The first possibility is the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), which can help by blocking the reabsorption or reuptake of serotonin in the brain, thus resulting in more serotonin in the brain. 

Second, there is light therapy, which has been a standard treatment since the 1980s. 

The idea behind light therapy is to expose yourself to a bright, artificial light that simulates sunlight for about 20-60 minutes. Those who use this method often do it daily and in the mornings to wake themselves up better.

Another option is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of psychotherapy which relies on identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones. CBT seeks help through identifying activities that are fun for the subject and using them in an effort to improve coping skills. 

Finally, there is vitamin D. While some have found this to have no effect, others have found it to be just as effective as light therapy. 

In the same way as other mental disorders, symptoms of SAD are not always visible to others. But that doesn’t mean it’s any less valid of a problem. 

As winter continues to grasp Edinboro in its clutches, many of us are sure to be experiencing some level of depression, whether it be simply sleeplessness and overeating, or something worse like social withdrawal. 

It is best that we accept that while SAD is not a constant problem, it is just as detrimental to one’s health as any other form of depression, and it shouldn’t be brushed off as just another case of the winter blues. 

Roman Sabella can be reached at voices.spectator@gmail.com.

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