Battling the Winter Blues

It is estimated that as many as half a million people in the United States experience winter-onset depression, a type of depression associated with cold-weather months. With a physician’s help, however, winter-onset depression is a treatable condition.

Winter-onset depression is the most common form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression associated with changing seasons. The cause of the condition is unclear but it may be related to changes in an individual’s circadian rhythm that result from reduced exposure to sunlight in winter.

Winter-related SAD typically lasts from late fall or early winter to the beginning of summer. SAD usually appears in people ages 20 or older and is more common in women. SAD is more likely to occur as a person ages, and individuals living in northern regions are more vulnerable to winter-onset SAD.

Every person’s experience with inter-onset SAD is different, but common symptoms include:

  • Change in appetite
  • Weight gain
  • Low energy level and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability and anxiety
  • Avoidance of social situations
  • Lack of interest in favorite activities

Winter-onset SAD is fairly predictable, as symptoms tend to occur at the same time each year.

“Many people with winter-onset SAD may benefit from seeing a psychiatrist, who can assess their symptoms and formulate a treatment plan,” says Dr. Seeth Vivek, Chairman of Psychiatry at Jamaica Hospital. “Possible treatments include medication, behavior therapy, and light therapy.”

Light therapy acts a substitute for the limited sunlight during the winter months. Patients receiving this treatment sit in front of a light box or wear a light visor for 30 minutes per day, and if the therapy proves effective, they continue until spring.

When it comes to preventing winter-onset SAD, it is important to stay active. Search for activities to do around the house and guard against isolation by scheduling get-togethers with friends.

For more information about winter depression or to make an appointment to speak with a member of Jamaica Hospital’s Psychiatry Department, please call 718-206-7071.