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How to Handle Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

For many, wintertime means holidays spent with loved ones, warm nights snuggled by the fire and cool, sunny afternoons on the slopes. However, for up to eight million Americans who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), this time of year can be very difficult. In fact, even more people experience sub-syndromal SAD, a mild form of SAD often referred to as "the winter blues" or "the winter blahs."

The nonprofit organization Mental Health America answers questions about SAD so that you can help yourself and your clients deal with symptoms during this time of year.

What is SAD?
SAD is a mood disorder associated with depression and related to seasonal variations of light. Brought on by the shorter days and longer nights, symptoms disappear completely in the spring.

Who gets it?
People in northern geographic areas, where days are shorter, are most affected. Women get SAD four times more often than men and women in their thirties are most at risk. It is not common in children and, for adults, risk decreases with age.

What are the symptoms?
Symptoms may include sleep problems, lethargy, overeating, depression, social problems, anxiety, loss of libido and mood changes.

Is it treatable?
There are many effective options for treating SAD. Regardless of which treatment a person determines to work best, relief is possible.

How is it treated?
Primary treatment options include phototherapy (exposure to bright light for 30 minutes per day throughout the fall and winter) and increasing exposure to natural light. Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are also possible treatments.

What should I do if I think I have SAD?
If a person worries they may have SAD, he or she should talk with a health professional.