During the winter months, it’s normal to feel a little blue from time to time. But for some people, the winter blues can turn into something more serious. As the days grow shorter and temps get colder, these individuals notice symptoms such as anxiety, mood swings, and loss of appetite. The cause can be a type of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD), which can make winter seem like the longest, gloomiest season of all.
“SAD is recognized as a disease, and it looks like major depression in some people,” says Austin Williams, MD, a family physician with Kettering Health Network. “The main difference between these conditions is that SAD typically occurs during the winter months, and affects people who don’t necessarily experience depressive symptoms at other times of the year.”
Experts aren’t sure why winter is such a problem for some people, but Dr. Williams says that lack of sunlight is a factor. A decrease in sunlight can:
People who live further from the equator are at higher risk for SAD, and women are two to three times more likely to feel depressed in winter compared to men.
It may be time to talk to your doctor
Dr. Williams encourages people to talk to their doctor if they are experiencing symptoms of SAD, which can include:
Your doctor will take time to talk with you about your symptoms, and may ask you to complete a questionnaire to better understand your concerns. Since some symptoms of SAD mimic those of Vitamin D deficiency or an overactive thyroid, your doctor may order a blood test to see if one of these problems could be causing your symptoms.
Healthy habits, medical care will help
Anti-depressant medication can be a good option, especially if symptoms are severe or affecting you three or more days a week. Dr. Williams also recommends:
“Whenever patients share a concern about their mental health, I make a point to thank them,” Dr. Williams says. “It’s difficult to reach out to someone for help. There’s an element of bravery there—but it’s also the first step toward feeling better.”
If you are feeling blue or depressed, a Kettering Health Network primary care provider can help. To find one near you, click here.