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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Less light can mean darker moods


Does your mood seem to mirror the seasons - growing darker as the winter days get shorter and lifting as the brighter days of summer approach? You could have a condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).


SAD is a type of depression characterized by its recurrent seasonal pattern, with symptoms lasting about four to five months per year in late fall to early spring. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about five percent of adults in the United States experience SAD.


“People may start to feel ‘down’ as the days get shorter this time of year. This is ‘winter-pattern SAD’ and can make you feel tired, crave carbohydrates, gain weight, avoid things you normally enjoy or withdraw socially during the fall and winter months,” says Aspirus Licensed Clinical Social Worker Heidi Pritzl.


Anyone can be affected by SAD, but according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), those who are the most at risk are women, people living in the north, people living with other mental health disorders and those a family history of depression. In most cases, SAD begins in young adulthood.


If a patient is diagnosed with SAD, a variety of recommendations may be made, depending on severity. Pritzl recommends a well-balanced lifestyle and getting outside for regular walks when the weather is mild. “Light therapy (utilizing a light box or dawn-stimulating lamp), talk therapy, vitamin D and in some cases medications such as antidepressants may be used alone or in combination. Talk to your health care provider about which treatment, or combination of treatments, is best for you,” says Pritzl.

Because the timing of the onset of winter-pattern SAD is so predictable, people with a history of SAD might benefit from starting the treatments mentioned above before the fall to help prevent or reduce the depression. Therefore, people with SAD should discuss with their health care providers if they want to initiate treatment early to prevent depressive episodes.


If you’ve noticed significant changes in your mood or behavior whenever the seasons change, talk to your provider, or find a provider at

Heidi Pritzl, LCSW, MSW sees patients at Aspirus Koller Behavioral Health in Woodruff and Eagle River.



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