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Winter blues in Montana? Maybe you have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Posted: 6:06 PM, Feb 26, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-17 14:50:01-04

BILLINGS- If you have been feeling down lately with this extended period of winter weather gripping the Treasure State, you may have Seasonal Affective Disorder and not even know it.

“(I want) people to realize that this is a real thing,” said Keri Cross, Billings Clinic psychiatric service nurse manager.  “Some people are like, ‘Oh you know that’s just hogwash, that’s not anything that’s really real.’ But it is. And it is something that you can get treatment for.”

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, can happen any time of year, but is typically seen more often in the winter months. The disorder is caused by a change in the amount of light you receive on a daily basis. Shorter days mean less light, which is why cases rise in the winter.

Symptoms of SAD can be similar to depression. Examples include: low energy, changes in appetite, and a change in sleep schedule.  People who are experiencing SAD may also try to isolate themselves from others. Or they may not find joy in things they used to.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, a chat with your health care provider can get you the treatment needed to get you back on the sunny side. One of the most popular treatments for SAD is light therapy, where you add lights to your home to help get your sleep schedule back on track. Cross says light therapy is one of many options for treatment.  

“Everybody is familiar with the light therapy. That can be one treatment option. It is not the only option,” said Cross.  “Depending on the level of depression the patient is experiencing, maybe medication is an option. That doesn’t mean you have to be on medication all the time. Maybe it’s just seasonal.”

Taking a mental inventory and identifying your coping skills can help those affected by SAD. As well, identifying friends and family that can act as your support network is key. Speaking with a licensed psychologist can also help.

“There might be some kind of psychotherapy (talk therapy) that is needed. Maybe you sit down and so some cognitive behavioral therapy with a licensed clinical individual who can help you identify those coping skills and change those bad habits,” said Cross. “I just want people to know that going and talking openly with their primary care providers is really the best option for them.”

If you think you are experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder or are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to a mental health professional or a friend or family member.

Below are links to mental health resources:

Montana Department of Health and Human Services

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline