Bothered by Winter? Could you have Seasonal Affective Disorder?

By R. Ryan Patel DO, FAPA OSU-CCS Psychiatrist

Job # 071125 Snow DEC-05-2007 Photo by Jo McCulty The Ohio State UniversityWinter can be a difficult time of year. For some students, it could be seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

What is SAD?
SAD is depressive symptoms that come and go during a particular time of year. SAD is now considered a subtype of either depression or bipolar illness (1).
Two seasonal patterns of SAD are fall-onset SAD and the summer-onset SAD. The fall-onset type, also known as “winter depression,” is more common; with depressive symptoms starting in the fall and improving by spring or summer. A spring-onset, fall-offset pattern is quite rare (2).

How common is SAD?
•SAD can occur in up to roughly 10% of the population across 20 retrospective studies (5) and a milder form among 10% to 20 % of the population (7).
• It is more common at higher northern latitudes (further away from the equator) (6), possibly because of less sunlight.
• People who relocate to higher latitudes from lower latitudes can be more vulnerable (5).

What are the symptoms of SAD?
Fall-onset tends to have what I call, “hypoactive type” symptoms depression (1,3), with symptoms of:
• Depressed mood AND
• Increased sleep, increased appetite with carbohydrate craving
• Increased weight
• Irritability
• Interpersonal difficulties (including sensitivity to rejection)
• Heavy, leaden feelings in arms or legs

Spring-onset SAD can have “hyperactive type” symptoms of depression such as insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss.

What can students do to prevent or lessen SAD symptoms?
• Get active by exercising (check with your doctor first)
• Eat a healthy balanced diet of protein/veggies/fruit/whole grains, Omega 3’s
• Don’t isolate from family, friends, or colleagues and get involved on campus
• Take advantage of sunny days (open blinds, study near windows, time outside if possible, etc)
• Counseling
• Talk to your doctor about light therapy, medication options.

What are some of OSU’s campus resources for SAD?
Student Wellness center (Wellness coaching, nutrition)
• Exercise at the RPAC
•  Counseling and Consultation Service
Wilce Student health center

Are there any other helpful resources?

• Medline plus (4)
NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness)

Disclaimer: This article is intended to be informative only. It is advised that you check with your own physician/mental health provider before implementing any changes. With this article, the author is not rendering medical advice, nor diagnosing, prescribing, or treating any condition, or injury; and therefore claims no responsibility to any person or entity for any liability, loss, or injury caused directly or indirectly as a result of the use, application, or interpretation of the material presented.

1. American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), American Psychiatric Association, Arlington, VA 2013
2. Wehr TA, Sack DA, Rosenthal NE. Seasonal affective disorder with summer depression and winter hypomania. Am J Psychiatry 1987; 144:1602.
3. Tam EM, Lam RW, Robertson HA, et al. Atypical depressive symptoms in seasonal and non-seasonal mood disorders. J Affect Disord 1997; 44:39.
5. Magnusson A. An overview of epidemiological studies on seasonal affective disorder. Acta Psychiatr Scand 2000; 101:176.
6. Mersch PP, Middendorp HM, Bouhuys AL, et al. Seasonal affective disorder and latitude: a review of the literature. J Affect Disord 1999; 53:35.
7. Kasper S, Wehr TA, Bartko JJ, et al. Epidemiological findings of seasonal changes in mood and behavior. A telephone survey of Montgomery County, Maryland. Arch Gen Psychiatry 1989; 46:823.
8. Seasonal Affective disorder. Accessed 2/3/2015.