Seasonal Affective Disorder can be something many people face around this time of year when it gets colder and there are more hours of darkness.
Shorter daylight hours and a lack of sunlight in winter can create a biochemical imbalance in the area of the brain that controls emotions, according to the SAD Association.
Learning Support Specialist Mary Turner said the symptoms of SAD are similar to depression.
“The difference is that instead of the individual being affected year ’round, it happens at times when there’s less ultraviolet light which usually would be cloudy days, the fall and winter seasons when it does tend to be more grey and overcast,” Turner said.
For many people SAD is a seriously disabling illness, preventing them from functioning normally without continuous medical treatment, according to SADA. For others, it is a mild but debilitating condition causing discomfort but not severe suffering.
Turner said, like all illnesses, mental or physical, there’s a range SAD sufferers fall into, from severe to mild and anywhere in between.
“Some people may just be a little more sluggish and out of sorts and they’re just kind of blue, which would be true also of a mild depression.
“Others could really shut down and not be able to do very much.”
Turner said like all illnesses, there are ways to treat SAD.
She said there are special lamps with bulbs that simulate sunlight.
“They’re not cheap but they do emit that ultraviolet.”
Turner said those who are affected by SAD can use the lamp as needed to “help keep their mood elevated.”
She said for other individuals, touching base with a counselor or talking to someone who can help one sort through their feelings may be the key.
Turner explained why ultraviolet lights are so important to some sufferers.
“When it’s summertime or it’s bright outside, they perk up,” she said. “One of the things that sunlight does is shut off our melatonin production, which is what makes us sleepy.”
Turner said there are definite signs that point toward a diagnosis of SAD. Someone who might not want to go out on rainy days during the fall and winter doesn’t necessarily have SAD, she said.
“It isn’t just a ‘Let me curl up with my cat and a good book and stay inside.’ It’s ‘Oh my gosh, I don’t have a reason to get up or live today,’ so it does impact them much more severely.
“For the individuals who really are susceptible to the depression, it becomes much more serious for them.”
Turner said to look for patterns in mood and behavior.
“The thing about depression is it isn’t just a sadness,” she said.
“You lose somebody close to you or something happens, you can be sad, but you still have the sense of hope and you know you’re going to feel badly for a while but then you’ll be better.
“People who are depressed lose that sense of hope, so for them, there is no next June when it’s hot and sunny again.
“There isn’t going to be a better tomorrow, there isn’t a future, it is just, ‘I’m here, what’s the point? What’s the purpose?’ So they really need to get themselves out before they fall too deeply in that and work with somebody or volunteer, or do something that puts them around people and gives them a sense of hope again.”
Turner said for severe cases, a physician may recommend medication.
“Depression is one of those illnesses that’s very responsive to treatment but people have to be willing to seek it out,” she said.
“Sometimes people are reluctant to admit that they have a problem and they just try to deal with it.
“I strongly encourage people [who] think there may be something wrong to get help so they can feel better.”
There are a couple of ways to prevent the onset of SAD, Turner said.
“Certainly if they’re aware that they experience this they may prepare for it by putting the lights on before it becomes an issue, just having them as a regular component in their homes,” Turner said.
She said as the winter season nears, sufferers may want to seek out help in advance to make sure he or she has a plan before things progress.
To learn more about SAD or to speak with Turner or a counselor, contact Student Support Services at 405-682-7520 or visit the Student Support Services office on the first floor of the Main Building.
Turner can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact Sarah Hussain, email email@example.com.