As daylight dwindles, Seasonal Affective Disorder emerges

RAPID CITY, S.D. — Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, impacts millions of American adults each year, and it can last for about 40 percent of the year. It’s a type of depression common during fall and winter, when people see less of the sun’s shining rays.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is most prominent in winter months.Dr. Stephen Manlove, a psychiatrist in the Rapid City area, talked about how SAD develops and how it can be effectively treated.

“For some people, that decrease in full spectrum light causes depression and so we see an increase in depression around this time of year,” he explains. 

The drop in sunlight can throw off our circadian rhythm, and some studies even link sun exposure to serotonin production, the chemical that manifests as more positive emotions in the human brain.

For this reason, SAD is more often reported in individuals who live at higher latitudes, where changes in the amount of sun between summer and winter are much more drastic. It’s also more common in women compared to men, as well as in those with preexisting mental health conditions.

There are treatments available though for those who battle symptoms like overeating, oversleeping, and loss of interest and focus in activities.

“Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated by giving people other access to full spectrum lights, so one of the common ways we treat it is using light therapy,” explains Dr. Manlove. 

With light therapy, a person sits or works near a light therapy box, which filters out UV rays but emits light that simulates sunshine. Light therapy can help rebalance the brain chemicals that are linked to sleep and mood regulation, which helps minimize SAD symptoms.

Experts also recommend prioritizing exposure to the outdoors, even if it’s just for a few minutes.

“I come to work in the dark and I go home in the dark,” says Dr. Manlove, “so I try to get out at noon for at least a little bit of light.”

He also suggests paying close attention to eating and sleeping as well as possible, especially when we don’t have quite as much of that natural sunlight to put a smile on our face.

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