Seasonal Affective Disorder Causes Depression During Winter

By Lauren Wanko

The dark, dreary days of winter don’t just bring a drastic change in temperatures. Some people’s mood can dip as low as the thermostat.

“I become very isolated. I sit on the couch. I don’t want to do anything,” said Ocean Grove resident Norah Truex.

“When you’re not in the light, I think your mood definitely changes,” said Linda Nelson of Wall Township.

When asked if winter blues is a real thing right, Dr. Ramon Solhkhah of Meridian Behavioral Health said, “It absolutely is a real thing.”

It’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.

“It’s essentially a mini depression that occurs during the context of the winter season usually,” said Dr. Solhkhah.

SAD symptoms, which are no different than other forms of depression, include low energy, fatigue, a sad, depressed mood and changes in appetite or sleep.

“And they should last more than just, ‘Gee it’s a snow storm today so I’m sad,’ but really have a little more of a time pattern so lasting over weeks — typically two to three weeks as a minimum,” said Dr. Solhkhah.

SAD typically starts affecting people when the clocks are set back in the fall.

“It’s a combination of change in sleep, certainly the change in light so as people start to experience less sunlight,” said Dr. Solhkhah.

Dr. Solhkhah says SAD symptoms peak around the end of January into February.

“Because by then people have really gone through those changes and are really struggling particularly in this winter we’ve been having in New Jersey,” he said.

Patients are treated with psychotherapy or antidepressants and they’re usually not diagnosed until they’ve experienced symptoms for two years.

“Because you really want to see that it’s not just this winter, it’s not just the life events that are going on. The normal rates for depression are probably around 8 or 10 percent of people experience depression over the course of a year. The rates of a seasonal depression are maybe 2 or 3 percent in New Jersey,” said Dr. Solhkhah.

Despite the chilly temperatures, Dr. Solhkhah recommends folks bundle up and go for a walk for at least 30 minutes to an hour to get some natural sunlight. He says there’s an added benefit too. Exercise can help release endorphins which can boost your mood and helps regulate the normal sleep-wake cycle.

“Just to get a little sun in the face will get you through the year,” said Joe Smith.

Bradley Beach resident Smith walks every day.

“You don’t have to go for the Olympics or anything like that. Just take a walk. That’s all you have to do,” Smith said.

“Well I usually do try to get out so I don’t feel down, because I do feel down if I’m sitting inside all day,” said Ocean Grove resident Roger Truex.

“I really do have to force myself to get out and walk. Then I become energized, it’s like my mind clears up. It clears my mind up,” said Truex.

For those suffering with seasonal affective disorder, symptoms typically start to improve as spring approaches.