This is the time of year when some Iowans will start to feel the winter blues. One mental health expert says it may be more than just feeling down, it could be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Dr. Todd Stull, a psychiatrist in Omaha/Council Bluffs, says SAD is a medical condition.
Dr. Stull says: "We know that’s a type of depression, actually, and it may be very mild and people get through it and it may be moderate or severe. It happens more commonly for people who live in the Northern Hemisphere. The further north you go, the more likely you will experience those types of symptoms." In addition to cloudy, cold weather, he says the shorter days play a huge role in how we feel.
Stull says: "People will not only get down, but they’re tired, worn out, no energy, want to eat more and often want to eat carbohydrates. The smaller amount of sunlight there is per day, shorter days if you will, the more likely people will have the Seasonal Affective Disorder." He says many people can get relief from SAD, without medicine, through using a simple device that’s known as a light box.
Stull says: "A fairly significant number can benefit from a special type of lamp that’s used to treat people that have the winter blues where they’ll spend 30 to 60 minutes sitting in front of this lamp. It stimulates key areas of the brain that affect their energy and their mood."
Stull, who works at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, says natural light is better that artificial light, so he suggests everyone spend as much time outside as possible, even when it’s cold. He says it’s also important to get exercise — so a daily walk combines both light and physical activity. Those with severe SAD cases should see a doctor as an antidepressant may be necessary.