How winter blues could be Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder can be treated with medication or counseling (WSAW Photo).

WESTON, Wis. (WSAW) -- Many of us got our first real taste of winter Wednesday morning. Mental health experts say this is the time of year Seasonal Affective Disorder can start to take hold.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is something that affects 10 million Americans or 6% of the population, according to psychology experts. It's dark by dinnertime, disrupting your body's internal clock, which can lead to feelings of depression.

“What the studies show is that people in northern climates are affected by this disorder much more than people in southern, because they believe that there is a relationship to sunlight,” said Noreen Salzman, the Executive Director of the Centre for Well Being. The center has four locations in Central Wisconsin and counsels patients whose winter blues start to affect their lives.

"They might have lower energy, they might experience irritability, so there’s some usual changes in their functioning or how they are experiencing life. Activities that usually give them pleasure, they find themselves not really enjoying it," Salzman said.

It can start to hit people as winter sets in, but “January and February are the months that people feel often times the worst,” she said.

Some signs of seasonal affective disorder are a pattern of changes in sleep, appetite and concentration that worsen with the change in weather. And can even turn to hopeless or suicidal thoughts.

"It doesn't mean that something is severely wrong with you. It does mean that you might have seasonal affective disorder," she said.

But seeking treatment through therapy or medication can help people cope.

"It definitely can be helped significantly during these winter months. People do not need to suffer," she said. “Usually, the best form of treatment is a combination of talking with your doctor about it and also seeking some mental health treatment, because that mental health therapist is going to help you look at your lifestyle, and look at your personal characteristics, about how you can mitigate with those symptoms.”

If it's something you experience several years as a pattern of depression, it can be diagnosed by a doctor.

"There's medications such as anti-depressants that can help during this period of time," she said.

Some people's feelings can be self-treated with vitamins and a structured routine, looking at your lifestyle and trying to minimize stress.

Mindfulness, yoga and breaking a sweat can also be helpful.

"One of the things that exercising does is it can help boost energy, it helps some of your bio chemicals stabilize," Salzman said.

And light therapy could help some feel better, but not all.

"Some medical conditions are negatively affected by the light box, so that's a conversation you definitely want to have with your physician," she said.