Many of us get a little gloomy as fall’s colorful palette gives way to gray skies and snowy weather. We can’t get outside as much, and everything seems to be more of a chore.

For some people, the arrival of winter brings an annual bout with severe depression. About the time that most people are decorating their homes with colorful lights, these folks are struggling to get through the day. Their energy levels drop, and while they’re tired, they have trouble sleeping. Many of them find it difficult to concentrate on basic matters, while others see drastic fluctuations in their appetites and weight. For some, the feelings are so overwhelming that they may even contemplate suicide. Well-meaning friends insist that they should just cheer up.

But they can’t, because they’re battling what’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). No, it’s not some kind of trendy malady being promoted through social media. SAD is a very real form of depression that affects anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of Americans. Most people suffer the most as winter takes hold, but others see a peak of symptoms in late spring or early summer.

Scientists aren’t completely sure what causes SAD, but most suspect that it’s linked to our biological clocks and the reduced sunlight that accompanies shorter days. With fewer hours of sunlight, they theorize, our brain chemistry changes. Levels of serotonin (a brain chemical that affects mood) may drop, while the amount of melatonin in our bodies can change, affecting both sleep patterns and mood.

It’s not unusual to become a little blue as winter approaches. But if you’ve noticed that you struggle with depression, energy, mood, and concentration every year at this time, you may actually have SAD. The good news is that help is available. Some individuals with SAD benefit from light therapy, in which they’re exposed to additional light that matches the sun’s colors. In addition, many people with SAD benefit from talk therapy, and in some cases, medication.

You shouldn’t try to diagnose SAD on your own. If you or someone you know appears to have the symptoms, a good start is to make an appointment with one of our professionals. We know what to look for and what questions to ask, and can draw on the support of local medical professionals when that’s appropriate. If you’ve seen changes in sleep patterns or appetite, if you’re feeling worthless or are thinking about suicide, or if you’re turning to alcohol or food to get you through the day, please don’t delay. Call us today.

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