Photo courtesy of Pixabay.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

This article was contributed by the San Benito County Behavioral Health Department.

The final months of the year bring some people joy at the thought of the upcoming holidays and spending time with friends and family. For other people, this time of year causes sadness and depression, kicking off with the time change.

It is easy to dismiss these feelings of sadness and loneliness as a natural side effect of the time of year. It is important to realize that there is a condition named Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) that 15% of adults begin to develop as winter approaches. We are saddened by the shortening days, climb into bed earlier and resent waking up when the morning light grows dim. For 14 million Americans, these symptoms grow considerably worse as winter progresses. In some cases, these symptoms develop during the spring and summer seasonal changes.

Children and adolescents can also suffer these symptoms. They may experience feelings of low self-worth and hopelessness. Children with depression struggle to concentrate on their schoolwork. Their grades may drop, worsening feelings of low self-esteem. Symptoms that last more than two weeks are cause for concern.

Research suggests that the cause of SAD can be related to the changes in sleep patterns and the amount of sunlight we are exposed to. Our bodies have an internal clock that naturally lets us know when it is time to sleep and wake up. The time changes cause a disruption in that clock affecting the amount of normal sleep we get. In addition, shorter winter days mean that people do not have as much exposure to the sun. Sunlight helps the brain produce serotonin which fights depression.

Several effective treatments can help adult sufferers of SAD. Simply bringing more sunlight into your life can treat mild cases. Spend time outdoors every day, even on cloudy days. Open window shades in your home. Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, one that’s low in simple carbohydrates and high in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.

If you notice symptoms of SAD in yourself or in your child, it is important that you take it seriously and seek help to prevent the symptoms from getting worse. The San Benito County Behavioral Health Department suggests going to see your mental health provider to discuss your symptoms and determine the appropriate treatment plan for you. Making sure you get appropriate treatment can turn your winter blues into a time you can enjoy your family and friends during the holidays.

To learn more about mental health services offered by San Benito County Behavioral Health Services, click here.

For more information, call San Benito County Behavioral Health at (831) 636-4020.