Seasonal Affective Disorder: A bright look at those “Winter Blues”

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Diego Ponieman, M.D., M.P.H.

By: Diego Ponieman, M.D. M.P.H.


Have you noticed you’re more anxious or moody in the winter months? Do you find you have lower energy, a bigger appetite, or tend to pack on a couple of extra pounds around this time of year? As we just recently turned our clocks back and our days are getting shorter, I hope my readers are aware of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that occurs seasonally.


SAD generally occurs in the late fall or early winter and can last throughout the spring, even bleeding into the summer. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), about six percent of the U.S. population suffers from SAD, while another 14 percent of the adult population suffers from less pronounced seasonal mood changes – or “winter blues.” Research has identified imbalances in the body’s serotonin, melatonin, and Vitamin D levels as possible causes. Serotonin regulates mood, melatonin regulates sleep, and Vitamin D affects serotonin; all three are affected by reduced sunlight. Because the causes of SAD are unknown, it’s important you speak with your doctor if you are feeling unusually moody during the winter months to help you manage your condition and to monitor for worsening mood symptoms. This can also help those around you as you will be able to identify SAD.


Preexisting depression or bipolar disorder, family history of depression, age and gender, all increase risk of having SAD. According to the NIH, women are four times as likely as men to be diagnosed with SAD, and young adults aged 18 to 30 are the most vulnerable, though children and teens have been diagnosed as well.


As I’ve seen through my practice, Latinos welcome a dialogue about mental health, but oftentimes, face multiple barriers to access mental health services. According to the American Psychiatric Association’s Office of Minority and National Affairs, less than one in 11 Hispanics with a mental disorder contact a mental health specialist, and less than one in five contact a general health care provider. Furthermore, less than 55 percent of Hispanic adults — and only 30 percent of adolescents — with a major depressive episode, which the NIH defines as a period of two weeks or longer during which a depressed mood affects daily functioning, receive treatment. Make sure to discuss the subject of mood with your physician, with family and friends; early identification is key to manage and treat SAD.


There are a variety of treatment options for SAD, ranging from physical activity, counseling, light therapy, to medication. Going for a quick afternoon walk to break up your workday, investing in an alarm clock that wakes you up with natural light, or exercising – which releases natural endorphins, or hormones that elevate mood – are all ways to manage SAD.


Wanting to spend the night in does not necessarily mean you have SAD. However, it’s important to recognize when how you’re feeling could be a sign of something more, especially if your mood changes seem to align with season changes. SAD can lead to serious depression if left untreated. At SOMOS Healthcare, our network of physicians and specialists in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Queens are laser-focused on delivering high-quality, culturally sensitive, patient-centered care to New York City families. Ask your doctor about SAD today to set yourself up for a healthy and happy winter.

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