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Winter months are difficult for people with seasonal affective disorder

The Daily Record - 12/31/2019

COLUMBUS — Becca Pollard was diagnosed with depression in high school, but it became clear it got worse when the days started getting gloomier.

Because of this, the 37-year-old North Side resident was told a couple of years after her initial diagnosis she actually had seasonal affective disorder, a form of depression that aptly is often shortened to SAD, which made a lot more sense to her.

“I tended to feel much better and have more energy in the warmer months, especially in the summer, but in the winter I would feel really tired, not have a lot of energy,” she said.

People with SAD often experience mood changes and symptoms similar to depression that typically emerge during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight, according to the American Psychiatric Association.

Columbus is ranked the seventh gloomiest city in the U.S., according to the website BestPlaces.net.

Pollard has a harder time doing everyday activities because of SAD. “My inclination is to stay home, to stay in bed, just try to hide from the world, so I really have to motivate myself to get up and do the things I have to do, especially when it’s cold,” she said.

Seasonal affective disorder isn’t included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the preeminent text for mental health specialists to recognize and diagnose mental illnesses. Rather, it’s identified as major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns.

“It’s like a different flavor of depression almost,” said Dr. Samar McCutcheon, a psychiatrist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.

Symptoms of SAD include fatigue, weight gain, feeling of sadness, lack of interest, trouble concentrating and suicidal thoughts. People between the age of 20 and 30 are most likely to struggle with SAD, McCutcheon said.

“It’s almost like a bear going into hibernation,” McCutcheon said.

Seasonal affective disorder is estimated to affect some 10 million people, with January and February usually being the hardest months, according to Psychology Today.

It’s different from the winter blues, however.

Winter blues typically refers to when people notice “that their mood dips a little bit or they may have lower energy or they sleep a little bit more, but it’s not to the point where they are having a whole constellation of symptoms that are causing significant impairment and distress,” McCutcheon said.

SAD is more complicated and can be more serious than the winter blues or wanting to hunker down and stay in for the night, she said. And the disorder can be debilitating.

There are three main treatments for SAD: antidepressants, psychotherapy and light therapy, McCutcheon said.

Light therapy involves using a 10,000 lux light box that mimics natural outdoor light, and it’s recommended that people use the light box at the same time every day, typically in the morning for about 30 minutes.

“It’s basically an artificial means of getting some daylight when we don’t have that option outside,” McCutcheon said.

Pollard said she uses light therapy a few times a week and keeps her light box on the nightstand in her bedroom so she can easily turn it on in the morning when her alarm goes off.

Recognizing the severity of the disorder, Worthington Libraries provides light therapy lamps at its three locations: the Old Worthington, Northwest and Worthington Park libraries.

The Northwest Library and Worthington Park Library each have one light box that stays at the library and the Old Worthington Library has two — one on each floor, said Monica Baughman, the deputy director of Worthington Libraries.

“The stations in the library are attractive and they provide a value-added function,” Baughman said. “You’re cozied up to read a book and you’re also getting some much needed light therapy at the same time.”

Worthington Libraries also has six light boxes available for circulation and will be adding six more to their circulation as soon as this weekWeek of Dec. 23, Baughman said.

Worthington Libraries, which is the only central Ohio library system to offer light box therapy, bought the lamps in December 2017 and started circulating the six light boxes in February 2018, she said.

“In Ohio, we have so many months where you don’t have great daylight,” Baughman said.

Each of the six lamps have been checked out an average of 27 times since February 2018 and have taken home by library patrons almost 12 times this year, Baughman said. The light boxes can be checked out for 14 days at a time.

If someone is unsure if they have SAD or the winter blues, McCutcheon recommends consulting a health-care specialist.

“I think the most important thing to remember is it’s very common,” she said. “You’re not alone if you are experiencing it.”

mhenry@dispatch.com

@megankhenry

CREDIT: MEGAN HENRY

 
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