Winter Woes: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and Living in the Upper Peninsula

If you’re feeling down, it might be Mother Nature’s fault. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that is caused in part by the changing conditions of the seasons.

And it’s nothing to brush off; symptoms of SAD can be just as severe as Major Depressive Disorder.

Those who suffer from SAD notice patterns in their moods and behavior that coincide with the changing seasons, and the symptoms usually start and end at the same time each year. Usually your symptoms will start in the fall and continue into the winter months.

In the Upper Peninsula, it gets cold and snowy for long periods. Daylight hours shrink. We sometimes feel isolated by the change in the weather.

Things to look out for are decreased energy, having problems sleeping, feeling sluggish or agitated, difficulty concentrating, feeling of hopelessness or changes in appetite or weight.

A study from the journal Psychiatry by Norman Rosenthal, MD and Steven Targum, MD showed that 6% of the US population may suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and another 14% are found to have a milder form of SAD which they refer to as “winter blues.” In short, you’re not alone: 1 in 5 Americans experience a degree of seasonally influenced changes in mood and mental health.

Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor about your mood changes and how you are feeling. Sometimes in the UP, we feel the need to act tough. But there are ways to help you feel happier and healthier in the colder, darker months if you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder.

Young people and women seem to be at higher risk for SAD, according to the Mayo Clinic, but anyone living far from the equator (that includes us in the Upper Peninsula) can be at risk.

What can you do?

Talk with your primary care provider about your symptoms. Your doctor can help you determine whether you are experiencing SAD or whether your symptoms could be caused by something else.

Phototherapy—or light therapy—exposes the patient to extra light. There are over-the-counter products that have become popular. Your doctor may be able to help recommend a product that has worked well for other patients. Before you purchase a phototherapy box, talk with your primary care provider.

Talk with your doctor to find out if home-based light therapy could help with your Seasonal Affective Disorder. Seasonal Affective Disorder is marked by decreased energy, trouble sleeping, irritability, and changes in moods that coincide with the seasons.

Some medications may help with SAD, including antidepressants. Your doctor may refer you to a psychologist.

Your doctor may also recommend lifestyle adjustments, such as making your environment sunnier and brighter by opening blinds at home, getting outside to take a walk during the daylight hours, and regular exercise.

If you are experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), you can find a primary care provider by using our Find a Doctor tool here or by calling UP Health System – Marquette at any time at 844.411.8747 to find a doctor in Marquette, Harvey, Escanaba, Sault Ste. Marie, and across the Upper Peninsula.

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