Ask the Nurse

I get so depressed during winter, but my husband doesn’t believe in seasonal mood changes. Is there really a connection between winter and depression?

There is no question that a change in season can produce a change in mood. Between 4 and 6 percent of the U.S. population suffers from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), while 10 to 20 percent may suffer from a more mild form of winter blues. Three-quarters of the sufferers are women, most of whom are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.This illness is more commonly seen in people who live at high latitudes (geographic locations farther north or south of the equator), where seasonal changes are more extreme.

People who suffer from SAD have many of the common signs of depression: sadness, anxiety, irritability, loss of interest in their usual activities, withdrawal from social activities, and inability to concentrate. They often have symptoms such as extreme fatigue and lack of energy, increased need for sleep, craving for carbohydrates, and increased appetite and weight gain.

If you think you have symptoms of SAD, see your doctor for a thorough examination to be sure these symptoms are not caused by another form of depression or major medical illness. Ask your doctor to check your 25-OH vitamin D levels as they may be low and contributing to your symptoms.

Research shows that light therapy is a safe and effective treatment for SAD. Sometimes antidepressant medicine is used alone or in combination with light therapy. Spending time outdoors during the day can be helpful, as well as maximizing the amount of sunlight you’re exposed to at home and in the office.

All My Best,
Speaking of Women's Health Nurse

April 28, 2011 at 9:22am