The Winter Blues a real, diagnosable condition

Monday, December 10, 2018

At Mental Health America of Putnam County, we watch out for our community members, especially as we head into the colder months. Many people are feeling down lately with the gloomy weather, but does that continue all fall and winter season for you or your friends?

With the right tools and resources, it does not have to. Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka Seasonal Depression, or the ‘“Winter Blues”) is a real, diagnosable condition.

For the most part, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) starts and ends around the same time each year. Typically, this is around the time when the seasons change, it grows colder, and the sun sets earlier. Studies have shown that SAD can also affect people in the spring, although less common. SAD may have larger effect on your community than you’d guess.

In a year, about five percent of the United States’ population experience seasonal affective disorder. Four out of five of those affected are women between the ages of 20 and 30. Depending upon climate change in the particular geographic region, it can raise up to 10 percent of the population. The colder and wetter the climate, the higher the risk, so we here in Indiana are particularly susceptible.

What are the causes? There’s actually a simple explanation for the “winter blues.” The reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter seasons can affect the levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood control. Lower levels of serotonin are linked to depression and anxiety. Also linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder is the hormone, melatonin, which regulates sleep in the brain’s pineal gland. Melatonin is normally controlled by your body, and your mind knows only to produce it when it is time for bed. If it’s constantly cloudy and dark out, your brain may think it is time to hit the hay, throwing off your biological clock.

So what are some of the signs that you or someone you know are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder? Because SAD is a form of depression, it can be difficult to tell which mood disorder someone is experiencing. Those diagnosed with SAD are more likely to have increased hunger, excessive energy loss, weight gain, changes in sexual behavior, and changes in social interaction. Depression and SAD both share the common symptoms of sleep problems, mood changes, loss of self-esteem, and fading interest in usual activities.

If any of these symptoms apply to you or someone close to you, there are things that may help. Phototherapy, or bright light therapy, has been proven to suppress the secretion of melatonin. Additionally, antidepressant drugs have a shot at working, but there are various side effects that come along with them, so be sure to talk to your doctor. Although research is limited, cognitive behavioral therapy has also been used to reduce symptoms.

Indiana has distinctive seasons and it makes it easier for us to tell when a phase of depression might be coming up. Since SAD is very predictable, there are preventive measures you can take to keep yourself and your family feeling their best during the colder months. You can exercise more to receive natural hormones that increase happiness flowing through your body, increase the amount of light at home, spend more time outside, and turn to sunnier places for vacation.

If you feel as though you or someone you know might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, you can learn more at, or take a screening through our local web page at

For help locating a mental health professional in our area, contact Mental Health America of Putnam County at or 653-3310.

Mental Health America does not endorse any specific mental health treatments or services. In addition, it is not the intention of Mental Health America to provide specific medical advice, but rather to provide readers with information to help them better understand their health and, when necessary, find the treatment that works best for them.

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