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Crow Wing Energized: Shedding Light on Seasonal Affective Disorder SAD

Theresa Steele

If you start feeling blue when the lakes in the Brainerd area becomes icy white, you are not alone.

Those blues may likely be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. This is a psychological condition that results in depression. It is normally provoked by seasonal change with adults typically experiencing the condition in winter.

About 80 percent of SAD sufferers are women, but this disorder affects men and children as well. Health experts have also found that, not only is age 23 the average age when patients begin to notice the symptoms of this disorder, but the farther away from the equator we get, the more likely we will be affected by this type of seasonal depression.

If you ever wondered where Brainerd was in comparison to the equator we are actually a little closer to the North Pole at 2,994 miles compared to 3,221 miles to the equator. But don't become dismayed. Although the chance of having SAD increases based on where we live compared to others, it is still a minority of the population that suffers from this condition.

Some symptoms of wintertime SAD to watch for include:

• Daytime fatigue.

• Difficulty concentrating.

• Feelings of hopelessness.

• Increased irritability.

• Lack of interest in social activities.

• Lethargy.

* Reduced sexual interest.

• Unhappiness.

• Weight gain.

• In severe instances, people with SAD can experience suicidal thoughts.

If you suspect SAD may be an issue in your life or that of a loved one, I encourage you to see your primary care team to rule out any possible underlying ailments like vitamin D deficiency or thyroid disease.

Another indicator of SAD, or as it was called in 1985 when first diagnosed—winter depression or winter blues—is that you have recurrent fall and winter depression with improvement in the spring for two or more years. This would be an indicator that it is likely you are experiencing SAD.

Effective forms of treatment include light therapy in the morning, healthy eating, socialization, medications, and physical activity.

Special lighting that mimics the rising sun has proven exceptionally helpful for SAD sufferers and these lights can be found at local medical supply businesses or online. I advise my patients to look for the lights that mimic the sun. An example of this is Lightbox Therapy Lamps, specialty lighting that is around 10,000 lux, which can be set to come on gradually in the morning just like the rising sun. By using a therapy light at least three times a week in the morning, you are likely to impact the symptoms of SAD you are experiencing.

Eating right, which includes avoiding processed foods and excessive sugar as much as possible, also can have a positive impact, as well as getting regular physical activity. Regular activity in the Brainerd lakes area may include: skiing, indoor swimming, walking, curling, pickleball, indoor cycling, or snowshoeing.

It is important to remember SAD is a form of depression and is treatable. Your care team or a specialist, such as myself, who specialize in care plans specific to an individual's mental health needs may be a part of feeling healthy all year around.

Theresa Steele is a psychiatric nurse practitioner for Lakeland Psychiatry Clinic at Essentia Health-St. Joseph's Medical Center.

Crow Wing Energized is a grassroots effort in a community health and wellness movement aiming to help engage, equip and empower community members throughout all ages to make the healthy choice the easy choice in and around Crow Wing County.

The program is a public/private partnership with the Statewide Health Improvement Program with Crow Wing County and Essentia Health working together to take the lead. Go online to for more information.