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Ronald R. Fieve, M.D, PC

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Seasonal Changes Affecting Depression

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Some call it the winter blues, others describe it as seasonal depression. Indeed, depressive symptoms and moodiness can be linked to seasonal changes.

Many of us feel a slump during the winter. When mild, the symptoms go away within a short amount of time (think of the post-holiday low). However, when symptoms persist and interfere with daily life for a significant period of time, it may a seasonal pattern of the major depressive episodes. Described as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) published by the American Psychiatric Association, this mood cycle is typified by symptoms that come and go in relation to the time of year.

Often, SAD follows a predictable onset and retreat: as the late fall and early winter arrive, lethargy begins to set in and moods become more changeable; as the spring and summer months appear, energy levels increase and the mood is elevated. Common symptoms of SAD include:

  • Depression, feeling pessimistic and hopeless
  • Low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Change in appetite
  • Insomnia

Although some individuals may experience SAD during in the summer, it is far more common in the fall and winter–the months that correspond to shorter days and, thus, less sunlight.

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, between 4% and 6% of people in the U.S. suffer from SAD. In addition, researchers at the National Institutes of Health have found that northern states have a higher incidence of SAD than southern states. (Approximately 10% of the people residing in Alaska are said to be affected by SAD versus about 1% of people in Florida). This is attributed to the shorter days of the northernmost parts of the globe.

Managing Seasonal Depression

The first step to coping with season-related depression is to have it properly diagnosed. Underlying medical conditions can have an impact on mood, so it is essential to rule out any other explanation for depressive symptoms.

These tips can help you manage episodic mood fluctuations:

  • Follow a recommended treatment plan (medication, talking therapy, light therapy)
  • Exercise and stay active
  • Reduce stress
  • Stay connected to people
  • Take a vacation

Consulting with Dr. Fieve

If you are suffering from depressive symptoms, it is important to reach out for support. Although the symptoms can feel overwhelming and isolating, it is useful to remember that seasonal mood changes are common–and treatment is available. Contact Dr. Fieve for an evaluation of your symptoms and a strategy for managing your mood.



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