Winter brings Seasonal Affective Disorder

November 18, 2013 Latest Print Print
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With the approach of semester finals as well as the holiday season, many students may find themselves suffering from unusually high amounts of stress. This stress, or other feelings, can be exacerbated by a condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD.

“Some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change,” according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. “They may sleep too much, have little energy and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.”

Mary Turner, learning support specialist, said no one should have to suffer through the disorder.

“ … It does respond to treatment,” she said. “Seasonal affective disorder is a type of mood disorder, so it’s in the same category as depression and bipolar.

“It is characterized by, primarily, changes in ultraviolet exposure,” Turner said.

“One of the glands in our brain that regulates sleep produces melatonin and sunlight — or any type of light — can shut that production down.

“So for individuals [who] are very sensitive to that ultraviolet, moving into a season where there is less sunlight can impact their feelings of sadness, put them into a depressed state and make them less functional.”

Primary care physicians often fail to diagnose seasonal depression or mood disorders. This can leave individuals who suffer from SAD feeling alienated, confused and lost, according to American Family Physician, www.aafp.org.

Turner said SAD symptoms, are “similar to any type of depressive disorder where the person feels lethargic, and just a general feeling of unhappiness and gloom.

“There may be body aches [in addition to psychological symptoms] and people may not be able to think as clearly.”

Turner said when a person feels something has changed and he or she doesn’t feel quite right, that’s the time to seek help.

“If they notice that they’re undergoing some changes or they understand that they’re more susceptible, [they should act immediately] and get treatment,” Turner said.

Turner said, while SAD typically tends to fade with the departure of the winter season, there are things that can be done to alleviate the symptoms of the mood disorder when it occurs.

“Individuals may be helped by installing [an ultraviolet] light in their homes and getting that exposure.

“They may be able to benefit from various talk therapies to get a better sense of what’s happening to them, because if we know what’s going on, we can handle things better.”

Turner said any student who may be affected by SAD also can get counseling at OCCC.

“Of course, [students] have access to our licensed counselors on staff,” she said. “If it’s determined they might need something more, the counselors can make appropriate referrals.”

In some cases, according to www.aafp.org, the first step to identifying SAD is to identify major (or recurrent) depression in a patient.

A doctor will then use a variety of screenings to determine whether the patient’s depression is directly correlated to a certain season.

Seasonal depression is more common among women than men, but the disorder can affect anyone, according to the website.

Turner said the important thing is to be aware that SAD is real and affects many people. Treating the disorder is of the utmost urgency she said.

“Mental health is as treatable as our physical health … and we shouldn’t hesitate if we feel like something’s wrong … because we’re talking about our quality of life and our overall well being and those are important.”

For more information, contact Turner at 405-682-7544, mturner@occc.edu or go by 1F8 in the Main Building.

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