News Article Details

Fall and winter mean return of seasonal affective disorder

Columbian - 11/19/2018

Nov. 19--The weather might still be relatively nice, but "that time of year" is almost here.

The days are shorter. The weather will get nastier. You'll see less sunlight. For some, fall and winter are just a bummer. For others, fall and winter mean the return of seasonal affective disorder, or what many people refer to by its very appropriately named acronym, SAD.

It's estimated that SAD affects around 5 percent of the U.S. population, but Jonnie Hyde, the chief clinical officer for Columbia River Mental Health Services, said that rate is likely higher for folks in the Pacific Northwest, where days are even shorter in the fall and winter, and there's less sunlight during the day because of rain.

Hyde said the Portland area gets sunlight only about 29 percent of the time in the winter. And if you peruse any ranking of most depressing winters in the United States, Vancouver and Portland generally land near the top.

"As the days become shorter and darker, people might find themselves oversleeping, craving high-carbohydrate foods, gaining weight, feeling fatigued and low energy," Hyde said of SAD symptoms.

SAD can also include more serious symptoms such as depression, and it affects women four times as much as men, although Hyde said she doesn't know why that disparity exists. The difference between SAD depression and a more general depression, Hyde said, is the recurrence of these symptoms at the same times each year. She said that a small amount of people can experience SAD in spring and summer.

"Typically they will experience this from year to year," Hyde said. "If it comes in the fall and winter and goes in the winter and does that repeatedly, then that's probably SAD."

SAD happens because the decrease in sunlight causes two things to occur -- a drop in levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that positively affects mood, and an increase in melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep patterns and moods. It's secreted more because it's dark longer.

Hyde explained that full-spectrum light therapy is one of the best ways to treat SAD. Full-spectrum lights can be purchased online.

"You make artificial sunlight, essentially, and that helps reset your body's chemistry, which is what's affected by SAD," she said. "It's a chemical response in your body and a neurotransmitter response to a lack of sunlight."

Most people will benefit from light therapy, but for some, medication and counseling may be needed. You can reach Columbia River Mental Health Services at 360-993-3000 or info@crmhs.org or visit the website for an appointment at crmhs.org/request-services.

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(c)2018 The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.)

Visit The Columbian (Vancouver, Wash.) at www.columbian.com

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