Health Watch: Signs of Seasonal Depression and methods to combat it

Published: Dec. 2, 2020 at 4:44 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - With winter in full swing in Fairbanks, residents may encounter seasonal depression brought on by the lack of sunlight and cold weather.

Seasonal depression, or seasonal affective disorder, is a diagnosis under the category of major depressive disorders. While most people experience emotional changes in the winter, seasonal depression is a diagnosable condition.

“I think that in just the general term a lot of people refer to having seasonal affective disorder even though they haven’t been diagnosed with depression. But everyone has seasonal changes, so those may be something that is bothersome but they aren’t necessarily disruptive enough to be diagnosable. But they’re very real,” said Jen Peterson, a doctor with the University of Alaska Fairbanks Psychology department.

The symptoms for seasonal affective disorder (SAD) include lack of energy, hypersomnia, changes in appetite, and a general feeling of being sad. One of the causes of SAD is a lack of sunlight. Sunlight helps regulate both melatonin which helps regulate a bodies sleep patterns, and serotonin which is a neurotransmitter linked with regulating mood.

”Also, sunlight and vitamin D,” said Peterson, adding “So you have less vitamin D. Vitamin D is also linked to depression. So we have all these things that are happening because of the light cycle. Then with us only having four-ish hours a day of light where it’s reasonable that you can see outside, we’re not getting as much sun exposure,”

There are methods one can try to help assist in combating SAD.

“Go outside, get that light exposure during those hours that you can because natural light is the best. Get exercise, take a vitamin D supplement, see your physician and see how much vitamin D you should be taking, make sure your vitamin D levels are where they should be. Practice wellness, take care of yourself, [and] socially engage with other people,” said Peterson.

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