Letter to the Editor: Seasonal Affective Disorder

By Kristen Lofquist

To the Editor:Many people, especially those of us going to college in Minnesota, may notice changes in their eating and sleeping habits during the winter months. Some may even experience bouts of the “winter blues.”

However, some people experience a more drastic change in mood as the sun begins to rise later and set earlier. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects as many as 10 million Americans every year. It is a cyclical form of depression that appears and dissipates at the same times each year. Symptoms usually begin to appear in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring.

Several factors can contribute to the development of SAD. A hormone that has been linked to SAD is melatonin, which is secreted only in the dark. The longer hours of darkness cause an increase in melatonin production, and people who suffer from SAD may have higher levels of melatonin than those who do not. Reduced sunlight can also cause serotonin levels in the brain to drop; serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects mood, and low levels of serotonin can lead to depression.

Some common symptoms of SAD are feelings of depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and lethargy. People may also experience social withdrawal, difficulty concentrating, increased appetite (especially carbohydrate cravings), weight gain, oversleeping, and loss of interest in usual activities.

There are many treatment options for SAD: in milder cases, spending more time outdoors during daylight hours and exercising regularly can help to improve symptoms. Light therapy is another option: you can purchase a light box (although they are usually not cheap), and simply sit in front of it for 30 minutes a day. Sometimes, in more severe cases, antidepressant medication is needed.

As winter is fast approaching, if you think you may be suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, don’t wait to get help! If you are experiencing symptoms of SAD, talk to your doctor or schedule an appointment with a counselor at Winton Health Services.

Kristin Lofquist ’09