Coping with seasonal affective disorder this winter

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a less severe depression, when the change of season and light exposure influence people’s moods and energy.

This winter in Halifax has been one of the worst the city has seen in years. Winter has been tougher this year with the multiple severe storms that have been called worse than White Juan in 2004.

More people have been stuck inside and have had to deal with snow and ice making it harder to move around the city.

It is understandable that Haligonians would be feeling a little under the weather due to the circumstances that they have been facing.

But what is the difference between being under the weather and having seasonal affective disorder?

What is seasonal affective disorder?

 Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that happens during a season, usually winter, and lasts until the end of that particular season.

Approximately two to six per cent of Canadians will experience SAD in their life, according to Mood Disorders Association of Ontario.

 

The sidewalk conditions in Halifax (Photo: Samantha Calio)
The sidewalk conditions in Halifax (Photo: Samantha Calio)

“Seasonal affective disorder is related to light levels. In winter the days are shorter, people are more confined inside and they suffer from lack of light,” says Dr. Rachel Morehouse, a professor at Dalhousie University in the psychiatry department.

It can be seen as a type of hibernation response where people are more likely to sleep in longer and be less active, but they also have signs of depression, says Morehouse.

Seasonal affective disorder is not as severe as depression and it rarely becomes a pathological depression.

What are some signs and symptoms?

 Seasonal affective disorder deals with people’s moods. Most people will start feeling sad or grumpy and have a lack of interest in doing their usual activities.

“Most people get impatient when normally they are not like that, and they are not wanting to get out of bed or do activities, you just have to know yourself and identify a change,” says Morehouse.

It has been shown that women are more affected by this disorder than men, but anyone can become vulnerable to the disorder.

“Starting around October when days start to get shorter is when people can start feeling the affects of the disorder,” says Morehouse.

In most cases people will start feeling better in March when days are longer and there are signs of spring.

“This year it might be delayed because people will still be stuck inside with the snow, but I have not seen more cases because of the bad weather,” says Morehouse.

What are treatment options?

 “Treating it involves giving people more light or they can be given antidepressants,” says Morehouse.

There are two options for getting enough light; people can either go outside or be exposed to a light fixture that is around 5,000 to 10,000 lux for around 30 minutes per day in order to receive enough light.

“The best advice is to get out, get active and get light,” says Morehouse.