The sun is setting earlier in the day and rising later in the morning. The rains and overcast have been coming in over the last week and it doesn’t seem like they are planning on leaving. Monday marked the Autumn Equinox meaning we are officially in fall.
Changing leaves, wetter pavements and colder winds are just some aspects that are to come in the next couple of months. September is the start of cool weather, pumpkin spice lattes, Suicide Awareness Month and, typically, when Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) starts.
OHSU Professor of Psychiatry, Dr. Alfred Lewy believes five percent of the population in the Portland metro area is severely affected by the disorder and another 15 percent is moderately affected (1). Studies show that out of the northern states—Oregon, Washington and Alaska—up to 10% of the overall population suffers from SAD (2).
Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
Symptoms specific to winter-onset SAD, sometimes called winter depression, may include: oversleeping, appetite changes- especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates, weight gain, tiredness or low energy (3).
SAD can be treated by light therapy- either through a lightbox or tanning bed, melatonin supplements (1), Vitamin D supplements, and/or exercise (4). With a big chunk of our population suffering from this disorder, it is good to know the signs and get ahead of it.
Lightboxes can be purchased online- there are several credible websites with Amazon being amongst them. Just be sure to look at ones with a light reading of at least 10,000 Lux. Supplements are always a great, “natural” way to get the nutrients you need, just be sure to do research on the company you are buying from and always consult your doctor to ensure it won’t interact with other medications.
Lastly, exercise is always a safe and healthy option to get rid of the winter blues. With the cold weather it may be difficult to get the motivation to go outside but now would be a good time to look into classes that provide hot yoga, indoor swimming or good old fashioned steaming via indoor/outdoor sauna; anything to get the pores opened up and the blood pumping.
Doctors also suggest keeping a regular sleep schedule and going outside for fresh air. If you feel like your symptoms may be more than just SAD and are hinting to a more severe problem, please reach out to your doctor or other people you can trust.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255