HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is affecting millions of Americans.
Some health care professionals estimate 6 percent of the United States population (roughly 19 million people) suffer each year.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) states symptoms include low energy, a sense of hopelessness, and social withdrawal among others.
Dr. Angela Caires of TMS Therapy of Huntsville said this can cripple a patients daily life.
“They don’t want to go to work, they may call in sick, they just don’t feel like themselves. They may just want to stay in their bedroom and close the door and stay away from everybody,” she said.
Caires said reduced sunlight can bring about the disorder’s symptoms.
“The sunlight actually tells our brain it’s daylight, it’s time to get up, it’s time to be active. So when the day’s over and the sun starts going down, that’s the time normally when our circadian rhythm in our brain, our Pineal Gland says it’s time to start resting and it’s time to slow down,” she said.
Meaning darker weather brings about more lethargic emotion.
The NIMH states risk factors for SAD include:
- Being a woman (they are diagnosed four times more than men)
- Living farther from the equator (resulting in reduced sunlight)
- Family history of depression
- Suffering from other forms of depression
- Being a young adult (more vulnerable to depression)
Caires said the key is maximizing exposure to sunlight.
“Get outside as much as you can during the daylight hours, taking advantage of what daylight there is is really important,” she said.
If one’s schedule doesn’t cooperate with being outside during the day, she recommends light therapy.
It involves sitting in front of a light box for 20-30 minutes, improving a suffer’s mood without medication.
The therapy lamps can be found on Amazon for as low as $30.
Caires also said taking Vitamin D is beneficial for improving mood, but it’s unclear if it combats SAD.
She added basic self-care such as eating healthy, getting exercise and improving sleep can all be beneficial.
If you or someone you love is suffering from serious depression, the Crisis Services of North Alabama helpline is 256-716-1000.