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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): More than the winter blues

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): More than the winter blues. Learn about SAD including: risk factors, treatment options, how to help friends, and when it's time to see a specialist.

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is also known as seasonal depression. It is a mood disorder in which a person who generally has no problem with mental health over the course of the year experiences a depressive mood during a certain season, whether it be fall, winter, spring or summer. Some of the symptoms are a tendency to overeat or over sleep, difficulty waking up in the morning, lack of energy, withdrawal from friends and family, anxiety, and irritability.

I asked Tonie VanStelten PsyD, Licensed Psychologist, at Solutions Counseling to help us understand Seasonal Affective Disorder a little better. Here's what she had to say: 

How do I know if I am at risk for SAD?

The most common risk factors for SAD include being female, having a family history of SAD, having clinical depression or bipolar disorder or living far from the equator; which as we all know, Minnesota is quite far from the equator!

What are some of the treatment options for SAD? 

Treatment options for SAD used to reduce associated symptoms are light therapy, antidepressant medications or cognitive behavioral or interpersonal therapies.  A combination of these treatment options may also be helpful in reducing symptoms. 

What can I do to help my friend or loved one with SAD?

One of the best ways to be helpful to a friend or loved one with SAD is to offer support and remain non-judgmental.  Your friend or loved one is struggling with the symptoms associated with SAD.  It may help to offer them resources, information and referrals to a professional who can adequately address their concerns. 

How do I know when it is time to see a specialist, such as a mental health provider?

It is important to see a specialist when your symptoms begin affecting your ability to function on a day to day basis, whether that be at work, in your relationships or as it relates to your energy and motivation.  Often times, I will tell clients that the sooner they initiate some type of treatment, the sooner they will begin to feel better!

Is there any way to prevent SAD?

Unfortunately, there is no known way to prevent SAD.  However, if the symptoms of  SAD are addressed early enough, they will not get worse with time.  Self-awareness is key.   Some individuals with a history of SAD begin to treat their symptoms in the late summer/early Fall so they don't intensify in the winter months.  If you notice yourself getting down, having bouts of sadness, or are experiencing changes in appetite, sleep or motivation, seek help from a professional.

For more information on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) visit Mayo Clinic’s website: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/seasonal-affective-disorder/DS00195

Dr. Tonie VanStelten is a Licensed Psychologist with Solutions Counseling. She has over ten years of mental health experience in multiple settings, including, college counseling, community mental health, medical clinics and private practice.  Dr. VanStelten enjoys working with patients ages twelve through adulthood. She has extensive experience treating individuals with anxiety, depression, panic, PTSD, health problems, abuse issues, grief and loss, problems related to parenting and multiple roles, and issues specific to women and relationship difficulties.  

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

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