The shrinking number of daylight hours combined with dropping temperatures may bring on the winter blues for some people. It may even trigger a case of seasonal depression, commonly known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Kodiak mental health therapist Susan Philo says what most people call SAD is actually major depressive disorder with a seasonal modifier.
“These people that actually do have full blown SAD are fine the other months, and actually people get it in the summer too, so that’s a strange one too. That looks more like irritability and anxiety, and it’s less common, but those people seem to be especially affected by too much light or not enough light.”
She says it’s a little more extreme than just low energy.
“Like you can’t get up in the morning, you’re oversleeping, you’re overeating, which we already talked about, but that doesn’t mean you have that diagnosis. Low energy, difficulty concentrating, withdrawing from your friends and family and social activities, feeling pessimistic, feelings of hopelessness, lack of pleasure, I think that’s a big indicator that maybe you need to see somebody for help.”
Philo says the first step to remedying the problem could be a visit to the doctor’s office.
“Because you can check you vitamin D levels – and by the way, everybody who lives in Kodiak or Alaska should take a vitamin D supplement. It’s up to your doctor to determine how much you should take and also to test to see if you are vitamin D deficient. Also light therapy, using a light box.”
She says a person needs to expose themselves to the light, which mimics daylight, for 30 to 60 minutes daily. Another solution is exercise, which increases serotonin levels in a person’s brain which in turn makes them happier. A trip to the gym or a brief walk could do the trick.
The maximum number of daylight hours in Kodiak is around 18, and the minimum is around six. Check out the full conversation with Philo and another mental health professional on the archived episode of this week’s Talk of the Rock.