Weathering the Bad Weather Blues

The rash of Winter 2014 storms, each touted in succession as the worst and the last, continues to erupt, leading some to ponder if spring will in fact spring March 20 as scheduled. Or will the pothole-pocked roadways, the school cancellations and the blue funk of staying indoors continue?

For most, winter interruptions to daily routines are a pain in the neck, at best; for others, the absence of sun and regular activity can be crippling. These are the patients “allergic” to bad weather — those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is depression confined to a certain time of year, generally winter, said Terry Lusher, M.A., LPC, of Encouraging Words Counseling Center. According to Lusher, it may take people a couple of hard winters to determine their feelings of depression are linked to snow accumulation, but as soon as they do recognize the connection, they should seek help.

“SAD has symptoms similar to clinical depression, but it is a different diagnosis,” he noted.

According to the National Institutes of Health, SAD affects more women than men and symptoms are similar to other forms of depression, including a feeling of hopelessness, increased appetite with weight gain, sleep pattern changes, decreased energy, unhappiness and irritability.

“A lot of times, SAD begins in the teenage years, especially with teen girls,” Lusher pointed out. “It’s very important for parents to pay particular attention to their teens and to get an early diagnosis to separate SAD from being confused with other things.”

Lusher added that he has seen an increase in teens suffering from SAD this year.

People of northern climates are also more susceptible to developing SAD, said Lusher.

“There’s a theory about light and light sensitivity in individuals. When winter light changes, we don’t absorb as much sun, we don’t make as much vitamin D and we end up with a deficiency.”

Sometimes, the depression symptoms lead patients to self-medicate. “There are studies that show as light decreases significantly, people get into trouble more with alcohol,” added Lusher.

Doctors often prescribe antidepressant medications to patients with a SAD diagnosis. Lusher’s practice calls on a variety of treatments for SAD, including psychotherapy, neurofeedback and nutritional therapy to manage patient moods until sunnier days return.

Other strategies to combat SAD are getting adequate sleep, exercise and light treatment. Although therapeutic light boxes exist to mimic regular rays, the sun is the optimal source when available, no matter the temperature.

“Stay safe, but get your coat on and get outdoors,” Lusher said.

By Lisa Shrewsberry