Seasonal affective disorder impacts millions, leading to symptoms of depression

Seasonal affective disorder impacts millions of Americans, leading to symptoms of depression. (Photo: Pixabay)

NEW YORK, NY (CBS) — The holidays can be the most wonderful time of the year, but for some, the winter season has a negative effect.

Seasonal affective disorder impacts millions of Americans, leading to symptoms of depression.

Every morning in the fall and winter, Megan Fellman starts the day with a cup of coffee and one very bright light.

“I just have it kind of at the side while I’m having my breakfast, reading the paper,” she says.

Fellman says she first experienced symptoms of depression more than 30 years ago, serious enough to require hospitalization. Her doctors later realized that some of her symptoms were connected to the changing seasons.

“It was a surprise. I’d never heard of seasonal affective disorder,” she says.”

Dr. Dorothy Sit, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine says, “Our bodies, you know, really depend upon light from the sun, or sunlight, to regulate our circadian rhythms.”

Dr. Sit studies how light therapy can help treat seasonal affective disorder and other forms of depression. “More recent studies have shown that it can be very helpful for treating non seasonal major depression. It can be used on its own, or in combination with some antidepressant medicine,” she says.

According to recent American Psychiatric Association poll, nearly 40% of Americans say their mood declines in the winter, and a quarter report feeling depressed.

Patients with seasonal affective disorder can feel fatigued or less motivated, and they may not be able to enjoy their normal activities. Fellman says treatment makes a big difference.

“It’s fair to say it’s almost life or death to me because I know where I have been without it in the winter,” she adds.

In addition to light therapy, Fellman takes anti-depressants, with higher doses from October through May.

“Know that there are tools out there that can help people be happy, lead a normal life and not feel alone.”

She wants others to know the winter blues are real, but help is out there.

Doctors say light therapy can help people feel improvements within 2 to 3 days of regular use, and a full response is seen within three weeks.

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