Women in their 20s may begin experiencing a sadder winter this year.
As temperatures drop and sunlight wanes, forms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can cause depression-like symptoms for people living in the northern hemisphere.
The disorder affects 6 percent of people in the United States, according to statistics by the American Academy of Family Physicians. However, more are impacted by winter seasonal change.
Another 10 to 20 percent can experience a milder form of SAD often known as the “winter blues.” Although a less severe form of SAD, the winter blues has a noticeable impact on sufferers.
Women living in the northern hemisphere are most susceptible to seasonally depressed feelings, according to Mental Health America of Wisconsin (MHA). SAD typically begins to occur in individuals between 18 and 30-years-old; 75 percent of sufferers are women.
This means that people, women especially, in their 20s who have not yet experienced seasonally depressed feelings may begin to feel them this year.
Symptoms typically begin in the fall and go throughout the winter months, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Symptoms of depression and symptoms of SAD are not exactly alike.
“Stereotypical depression tends to be low mood, certainly, and low energy. But what can happen with SAD is there is actually an increased appetite or increased sleep,” said Personal Counselor Jennifer Wilson.
Sufferers want to eat more and eat differently.
“Sometimes that’s related to craving for carbohydrates,” said Wilson.
Heavy meals loaded with carbs are an easy sign that the weather has affected appetite.
The change in sunlight affects cycles in the body. Low light in the winter months can alter hormones and brain chemical levels, according to the New York University Langone Medical Center. This causes moody, depressed feelings and feelings of tiredness.
The shortened length of winter days is due to the earth’s tilt.
“[The earth has] a 23.5 degree tilt, so as the northern hemisphere, where we are, is tilted away from the sun there’s less sunlight hitting that northern hemisphere and so we experience winter because less heat is coming through also,” said Biology Lecturer Amber Qureshi.
“In the winter we know we are getting less of that light intensity and less of that energy coming through,” said Qureshi.
Sunlight still hits the Midwest, but light must travel further. The distance causes light intensity to weaken. Winter daylight will not have as positive an impact on mood as summer’s daylight would. Qureshi said that research continues on how the brain is affected by sunlight and other factors. Although concrete evidence is hard to find when it comes to the brain, many correlations have been made between light and mood.
“They know that your mood and your light and dark cycles are connected to a small gland in the base of your brain and that is connected through the amount of light that goes through our eyes. Those connections are made to that particular gland. They know that the amount of light intensity that is coming through is going to affect the amount of a hormone, called melatonin, that’s made,” said Qureshi.
Light therapy has been effective in nearly 85 percent of diagnosed cases of SAD, according to MHA. The therapy works to suppress the brain’s production of melatonin, a chemical causing depression-like symptoms in SAD sufferers. The white fluorescent lights do not contain UV rays and are not harmful in small doses. Those who use light therapy can read or eat in front of the lights for up to four hours.
Wilson encouraged those feeling down this time of year to fight the negative feelings with positive action.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by staying fit, eating well, trying to sleep for only a reasonable amount of time and getting outside (even in weak light) are all ways to maintain a good mood.
Light therapy is also encouraged.
A light therapy box is available to use for free on campus in the Student Health and Counseling Services located at 211 Hagestad Hall, 410 South Third St. River Falls, Wis.