Seasonal depression effects and treatments

Winter lasted well into March this year and that meant more shorter and colder days, which can take a toll on those who suffer from seasonal depression.

Seasonal depression, often known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD, is similar to standard major depression, but follows a seasonal pattern. Everybody’s mood goes up and down, but in order to be considered seasonal depression, there must be at least two “cycles” where depression develops during the winter months and lets up in the spring or summer, according Interim Director of Health, Counseling and Student Wellness Ben Anderson.

Cases of seasonal depression can range from mild to severe.

“It happens a lot more at higher latitudes and we typically see it more with younger adults than with older adults,” Anderson said.

Some of the symptoms of seasonal depression are hypersomnia, which is sleeping too much, overeating, general unhappiness, irritability and feelings of hopelessness.

According to Anderson, the symptoms of seasonal depression are often similar to that of major depression.

“Because of that, we can use a lot of the same types of treatment methods that we use for major depression,” Anderson said. “CBT, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, is the gold standard for treating depression.”

CBT involves helping people understand what kinds of thoughts and patterns can cause depressive episodes.

“What will happen a lot of times is that people will feel their mood go down, which is normal, but when we combine that with irrational thinking patterns like ‘I’m a loser’ or ‘I’m no good,’ we actually perpetuate that mood,” Anderson said. “CBT helps clients work through those thought patterns and learn to argue with themselves and create alternative thought patterns.”

The direct cause of seasonal depression is still unclear. However, it has been suggested that seasonal depression may be linked to lower levels of vitamin D in the body. That’s why some people, especially those living closer to the poles, use light therapy to cope with their seasonal depression. According to the US National Library of Medicine, light therapy is where a bright, ultraviolet light is used to mimic the light and radiation of the sun.

“I’ve never used [light therapy] myself,” Anderson said, “But I have done some reading that there is some effectiveness to it.”

According to Employee Wellness Manager Kim Baker, the two biggest things to do when dealing with any kind of depression are getting plenty of exercise and eating right.

“Exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant medication if done regularly,” Anderson said.

If you are struggling with depression, seasonal or otherwise, there are many resources available to help, including NKU Health Services, which can be found on the fourth floor of the University Center.