As temperatures drop, and sunlight gets more scarce, it's normal to feel a temporary spell of winter blues.

However, if you've experienced depressive symptoms for a period that you think is longer than normal, it might be time to consult a doctor about Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD for short).

Registered Psychologist, Jennifer Sawa says SAD is a repetitive spell of depression, brought on by cooler seasons.

"Basically it's a type of major depressive disorder, that seems to have a seasonal pattern. So it shows up on the onset of fall and winter, and there could be remission during the spring and summer. Usually there's about a two year period to try and gain an idea of whether or not this is a pattern. There's also a few different symptoms that are unique to SAD. One is a craving for carbohydrates, overeating and weight gain, followed with decreased energy and hypersomnia [excessive sleeping]."

Sawa says just because you might experience these symptoms some of the time, it doesn't mean you have SAD.

"I think that it's pretty normal during the winter time to feel a bit low, and a little bit down. I don't think that means you necessarily have Seasonal Affective Disorder, but I think it's more common in younger people, women and those who live in higher latitudes."

Health practitioners diagnose mental disorders based on a rigorous classification system, and Sawa says if your concerned about mental health, it's always best to consult the help of a professional.

"Seasonal Effective Disorder shares some symptoms with depression, so it would really depend on whether it's related to weather changes. I think if someone is not sure, they should probably should see their family doctor because they would be able to help them to figure out whether this is something more situational or if it's a problem that needs more intervention."

Sawa says for those suffering from SAD or related symptoms, there's plenty of treatment options.

"Something that's pretty common with Seasonal Affective Disorder is treating it with light therapy. It doesn't work with absolutely everybody, but it can work very well for some. Light therapy works by regularly using SAD lamps. If they do go and see their doctor, antidepressants can be something that's helpful."

"SAD Lamps" or light therapy boxes, can be purchased over the counter and are designed to help those who struggle with SAD.

They work by emulating sunlight at varying frequencies, and the patient simply sits in front of the device for a length of time recommended by the doctor and manufacturer of the device.

However Sawa says there's plenty of things a person can do to alleviate their own symptoms.

"Something as simple as exercise and diet can be really huge. I think that when people get depressed, they tend to want to hibernate and hide away, and that's exactly what's not helpful. What they need to do is get active and get some light during the day if they can."

If you have any concerns about your mental health, and need more information contact the High River Addiction and Mental Health Clinic at (403) 652-8340.

More information on the clinic can be found here.


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