Seasonal Affective Disorder: Learning More about the Wintertime Blues

As fall melts into winter and the days get shorter, a seasonal health disturbance starts to increase. With fewer hours of sunlight during winter months, some people experience a serious mood change. Seasonal affective disorder, often known as the wintertime blues, is a form of depression that gains in prevalence during this time of year. Interestingly enough, there is a less common form of seasonal affective disorder that can develop in the summer months.

Who is Susceptible to Seasonal Affective Disorder?

If you think only people who live in northern climates and experience true winter weather—like bitter temperatures, snow and sleet—can develop seasonal affective disorder, you would be wrong. This form of depression affects people all over the world. According to Clinical Professor of Psychiatry Dr. Norman Rosenthal at Georgetown University Medical School, someone may have mild winter blues while living in a warmer, southern climate and develop full-blown seasonal affective disorder by moving north.

It is estimated that seasonal affective disorder occurs in 10 million Americans with about 10 to 20 percent being classified as mild. Prevalence ranges from slightly over one percent in Florida to nearly 10 percent in New England and upward of 14 percent in Norway. It is first seen in people between the age of 18 and 30. As with other types of depression, seasonal affective disorder occurs more often in women than in men—about four times more common. Severity of the disorder runs the gamut, which can influence quality of life even to the point of requiring hospitalization.

For many with seasonal affective disorder, there is a family history of psychiatric disease: 55 percent with a severe depressive disorder and/or 34 percent abusing alcohol. Of note, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco confirmed the existence of a genetic link, PERIOD3 or circadian clock gene, for this disorder.

seasonal affective disorderWhat Are Seasonal Affective Disorder Symptoms?

From late November through the height of the winter months, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder will slowly increase with time and diminish by late spring/early summer. Many sufferers report they would like to “hibernate” for the winter. It is also important to note that seasonal affective disorder is NOT the same as the “holiday blues.”

The following are symptoms associated with seasonal affective disorder:

  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Weight gain with increased appetite (note: weight loss is more common with other forms of depression)
  • Feelings of hopelessness

Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder

It is important to know and understand that left untreated seasonal affective disorder can become long-term depression. Additionally, bipolar depression and suicidal thoughts are possible. Unfortunately, a specific exam or test to confirm seasonal affective disorder is not available. A diagnosis is made by determining the history of symptoms. A healthcare provider often will perform a physical exam and order blood tests simply to eliminate other disorders.

Lifestyle changes can help manage symptoms: getting adequate sleep, eating healthy foods, exercising often, participating in activities that make the person happy and talking with a trustworthy friend or mental health professional.  For others who battle with seasonal affective disorder, light therapy is often a course of treatment. With light therapy, a special lamp is used to mimic sunlight. It is most effective to begin therapy before symptoms develop.

In 2017, studies were conducted to determine whether melatonin or tryptophan can be used to help move a person’s mood in a positive direction and improve sleep. Another study evaluated whether increasing vitamin D can prove beneficial in seasonal affective disorder. The results showed that more research is necessary to determine whether these options can be viable treatment options.

As always, if you or someone you know has thoughts of hurting yourself, get medical help right away.

At Chapters Health System and its affiliatesGood Shepherd Hospice, HPH Hospice and LifePath Hospice, every day is devoted to educating our patients and keeping them in the place they call home. We are dedicated to ensuring that patients, young and old alike, and their families are able to make educated decisions about important healthcare matters. For more information, please call our helpful Chapters Health team at 1.866.204.8611 or send an email to info@chaptershealth.org.

About Phoebe Ochman

Phoebe Ochman, Director of Corporate Communications for Chapters Health System, manages all content and communications for the not-for-profit organization.

Bomb Cyclone: Mother Nature’s New Weather Weapon

As the cold front continues to infiltrate Florida, you may have wondered what exactly was causing this unusual winter weather. Meteorologists are blaming it on what they call the “bomb cyclone” phenomenon.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a bomb cyclone, or “bombogenesis,” occurs when a big mass of cold air bumps into a big mass of warm, most air. This collision creates a lot of energy that causes the air pressure to drop dramatically triggering a very powerful cyclone. As the storm keeps moving north, the air pressure will keep dropping and it will get more and more powerful.

The resulting weather system is a defined as a “bomb” because atmospheric pressure drops very fast and the storm amasses devastating strength rapidly. As the storm intensifies, it draws more air in creating the eye of the cyclone.cold weather tips

Tips for Your Cold-Weather Safety

When it comes to cold-weather safety, we wanted to share some tips to keep you and your loved ones safe. You just need to follow the 5 Ps, which are:

People: Even in Florida, prolonged exposure to cold temperatures can increase the risk of hyperthermia. It is a medical emergency when your body loses heat faster than it can produce heat, and body temperature falls below 95 degrees.

If you are wet, even from sweating, hypothermia can occur. Therefore, try to minimize any time spent outdoors. If you need to be outside, make sure you dress in layers and cover your head.

Pets: Like humans, pets can also develop hypothermia. Do not leave pets outside. All pets need protection against weather elements. If you have a small or short-haired dog, keep them safe by dressing them in a sweater for walks.seasonal affective disorder

Pipes: If you have any exposed pipes, there is an increased risk of freezing and bursting. As a result, water loss is possible and can create icy conditions on walkways. If you have an irrigation system, the same holds true. Be mindful of ice on sidewalks and on the road.

To prevent freezing pipes, let the cold water drip from the faucet that is supplied by the exposed pipes. Even a trickle running through the pipe can help prevent it from freezing.

With temperatures dropping potentially below freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit), there is an increased chance of dangerous black ice forming on our roads. This phenomenon is called black ice as it tends to look like the rest of the pavement. You can use a car thermometer as a helpful indicator in monitoring road conditions.

Plants: With our temperature dropping into freezing range, outdoor plants can be killed, especially those that are not cold-tolerant. If possible, bring plants inside. As an alternative, cover plants for their protection against the elements.

Practice Fire Safety: Check all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and their batteries. Space heaters can be harmful if care and common sense are not followed. Don’t leave space heaters on overnight when you sleep, and don’t plug them into an extension cord or power strip. And lastly, do not leave them on when leaving the room or home.

Stay warm and safe!

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