Don't be SAD, It's Time to Fight the Winter Blues

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With the changing season, the chill in the air may have you feeling the winter blues. If your blues persist for an extended period of time, you may have a condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. The disorder is also called winter depression or winter blues.

SAD is a mood disorder that affects many who have normal mental health during most of the year. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, some people experience severe symptoms of depression during the winter months. Some may sleep too much and/or eat too many sweets and starchy foods.

 Dr. Ashraf Fanous is
 new to St. Mary's
 Hospital Staff.
Dr. Ashraf Fanous, a new private practice psychiatrist in Leonardtown and St. Mary’s Hospital medical staff member, shared information with St. Mary’s Hospital about SAD in the following interview:  The information is for educational use and is not a substitute for consultation with a doctor.

SMH: What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Fanous: “Patients with SAD experience depressive episodes in a particular season. Usually there is a temporal relationship between the occurrence of the depressive episodes and the particular time of the year. This could be a part of a depressive or a bipolar disorder.”

SMH: What are the major causes?

Fanous: “It is possibly caused by decreased sunlight in winter, which might affect melatonin regulation.”

SMH: How does it differ from other types of depression?

Fanous: “This pattern of depression has to occur in the last two years, with more depressive episodes following this pattern in the patient’s lifetime.” 

SMH: How do the seasons impact the disorder?

Fanous: “Remission usually occurs in spring. Also, in patients with bipolar disorder, switching from depression to mania could occur in spring.”

SMH: What are the symptoms?

Fanous: “The symptoms of depression may include: depressed mood; lack of interest or pleasure; change in appetite or weight without dieting; insomnia or hypersomnia; fatigue or loss of energy; feeling of worthlessness or excessive guilt; difficulty concentrating; and recurrent thoughts of death or suicidal ideas, plans or attempts. Symptoms need to be present for at least two weeks. Four symptoms with depressed mood or lack of interest are enough for the diagnosis.”

SMH: Who is affected?

Fanous: “Women are four times as likely to be affected by SAD. The mean age is 40.”

SMH: How do you treat SAD?

Fanous: “Treatment with light therapy is very helpful.  This therapy basically uses a light box with about 2,500 to 10,000 lux of bright light for one to two hours a day. It uses a full spectrum but non-ultraviolet light source. The patient sits in front of the b

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