Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder - Genesis Health System

Published on January 27, 2020

Sad woman sitting outside

Shining a Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder

If your mood is as dark as gray, winter mornings and you feel as if you’re living the lyrics of a blues song, it may help to shed light on your daily life.

An estimated 16 million Americans experience Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) as the hours of available daylight diminish in winter. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that is highly treatable, according to Steve Kopp, Ph.D, family counselor and director of Genesis Psychology Associates, Davenport.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder is very real for people who experience it. Many people go through it every winter and call it ‘the winter blues,’ but it’s more than that,’’ said Dr. Kopp “SAD is a subset of depression disorders.’’

Not unlike other species of the animal kingdom, humans experience physical and behavioral changes as daylight hours grow shorter. For some people, Dr. Kopp said SAD becomes a human version of hibernation.

“Some of the symptoms are fatigue, sleeping more, exercising less, weight gain, carbohydrate craving, irritability and a general malaise,’’ he said. “Sex drives also can diminish.

“What sometimes happens is that someone in the family notices that the person with SAD is grouchy and just isn’t feeling well. Maybe the person is sleeping in more and is skipping work. Someone suggests, ‘maybe you should talk to someone about it.’ It’s not unusual at this time of the year to see patients whom we diagnose with SAD.’’

Dr. Kopp said an increase in exercise, a healthy diet and a consistent sleep pattern can help SAD sufferers. Sufferers should also try to spend as much time as possible in natural sunlight. In more severe cases, phototherapy or anti-depressants may be recommended.

Light or phototherapy is suggested as a replacement for daylight lost during the winter. Dr. Kopp said there are many phototherapy products readily available online. Phototherapy units that shine at about 10,000 lux are suggested. Lux is the metric unit of measure for illuminance of a surface. White fluorescent lighting is recommended.

“Often the diagnosis is a relief to individuals with SAD. They now understand their winter blues,’’ Dr. Kopp added. “However, with our busy schedules and dreary weather, many struggle to find the motivation to change. For those individuals, several treatment options are available.’’

Statistically, Dr. Kopp said women are four times more likely to be affected with SAD than men. Younger adults – mid-20s through 30s – are also more susceptible than other age groups.

Dr. Kopp and Genesis Psychology Associates can be contacted at (563) 355-2577.

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