Seasonal Affective Disorder Most Common in Winter

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Everyone feels sad or blue from time to time. Individuals who feel prolonged symptoms of sadness when the cooler weather arrives could be experiencing a common medical condition. Fortunately, treatment is relatively easy.

Depression is a common illness and one that today is more accurately diagnosed, and it no longer carries the stigma it had in the past. There are many types of depression, and there are thousands of people who suffer from a particular kind during the change of seasons: Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that SAD is characterized by the onset of a depressive illness during the winter months, when there is less natural sunlight. The depression generally lifts during spring and summer. Some people do experience SAD in reverse, with depressive feelings in the summer, but for most it is a winter condition. It is estimated that 25 percent of the American population suffers from mild winter blues and about five percent suffer a true seasonal affective depression.

Most doctors attribute SAD to reduced exposure to natural sunlight. During winter months the sun sets much earlier in the evening. Individuals who spend long hours inside of the house or at work during the day may miss out on the sunlight. SAD is linked to the production of melatonin, a hormone that induces sleep. Melatonin is produced in greater quantities when it is dark, which may contribute to feelings of depression.

The easiest way to avoid SAD is to get ample exposure to sunlight. Even an hour of sunlight each day can help ward off symptoms of seasonal depression. Consider these options:

* Sit by bright windows when inside, such as in an office building or restaurant.

* Take brief walks outdoors. If it is too cold, head to a place indoors that has ample natural sunlight, such as a shopping mall.

* Drive with the windows down, as the tinting can prevent exposure to sunlight.

* Use a light box (there are many different versions in a variety of price points) to supplement natural sunlight.

* Maintain a consistent sleep-wake schedule.

Individuals who find that light therapy alone does not work for SAD can talk to a doctor about temporary use of a mild antidepressant drug for the winter months. Because these medications can take several weeks to begin working on symptoms, individuals who know they are prone to SAD can begin treatment a month before symptoms generally are full-blown.

Keeping the mind busy with hobbies that are not reliant on being outdoors can also help. What's more, a mid-winter vacation to some a warmer, sunnier locale may be an added boost.

If SAD symptoms are affecting a person's quality of life, he or she should contact a doctor for the best course of treatment.