“Make a plan or plan to fail”: Experts say it’s best to prepare for seasonal depression

SAD is a type of depression and symptoms include fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, difficulties sleeping, changes in appetite or weight and social withdrawal
Published: Sep. 13, 2023 at 9:37 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2023 at 11:35 AM CDT
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WAUSAU, Wis. (WSAW) - Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as SAD, tends to reemerge every fall and winter. The disorder often reaches its peak around December, but symptoms frequently start in September and October.

SAD is a type of depression. Its symptoms include fatigue, feelings of hopelessness, difficulties sleeping, changes in appetite or weight and social withdrawal.

While experts have not identified a singular cause for the disorder, most believe a deficiency in vitamin D to be a significant contributor. According to Maggi Rocha from the Behavioral Health Clinic, exposure to sunlight plays a crucial role in regulating mood, and during the darker months of the year, this can become a pressing issue.

“You need more sun, you need to get outside. And there is a physical truth to that... because it has a huge, huge effect on kind of our mood and how we’re feeling,” Rocha said.

However, Rocha also pointed out SAD is not solely linked to sunlight deficiency. There is a social aspect to consider. Many individuals tend to stay indoors and not engage in as many social activities during the winter months, which can exacerbate the condition.

“During the summer... you’re seeing those families walking around with their kids. You’re getting outside to be able to do more activities and things,” Rocha said. “Versus in the winter, especially up here in Wisconsin, there’s not necessarily as much for individuals to do that is outside or individuals who maybe can’t go outside in the winter due to different physical limitations, like mobility or just because of the cold.”

Rocha said a gloomy winter environment can also have a profound impact.

“When you’re looking outside the window, right, it’s not this colorful, floral green. We’re seeing white. We’re seeing the bleak kind of gray feeling. It’s rainy. It’s cloudy most of the time, and even when it’s sunny, the sun kind of blinds us off of the snow.”

SAD is more prevalent in northern states such as Wisconsin compared to their southern counterparts. The proximity to the North and South Pole results in significant variations in daylight hours, with northern regions experiencing considerably shorter days during the winter.

“As we go into the winter, we’re more tilted away from the sun. So, your daylight hours are shorter,” said WSAW meteorologist Mark Holley. He noted that the transition from late summer to early fall is particularly noticeable, with daylight dwindling at a faster rate.

In September alone, Wisconsin loses an hour and a half of daylight. With the prospect of even darker days ahead, Rocha said it is crucial to take proactive measures.

“What we typically recommend for individuals to do is to reach out to their primary care providers to discuss including something like a vitamin D regimen, starting as early as the early September timeframe, just to make sure that we’re kind of getting ahead of the game a little bit,” she said. “Because a lot of the times people don’t necessarily notice that they’re starting to develop more moodiness are starting to feel a little bit more down until they reach more of those, like real like deep, dark points... Make a plan or plan to fail.”