Bad mood - more than the winter blues?

Do you dread winters in the Heights? Have you been sitting on the couch alone, shoveling in Doritos, while dodging invitations from friends? If you find yourself unusually unmotivated, eating and sleeping more and socializing less, you might be one of many affected with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

SAD is a disabling condition that affects millions of people. The prevalence of SAD is uncertain, but most studies estimate that it affects between one and 10 percent of the U.S. population. The Heights, like all northern regions of the U.S., is thought to have an even greater prevalence. The incidence of SAD increases even further in those with a family history of the condition.

While forms of SAD can affect people in all seasons, the most common form is Winter Onset SAD. This form typically affects people in early winter/late fall and dissipates in late spring to early summer. Some notable symptoms are: hopelessness, anxiety, depression, loss of energy, behavioral changes, social withdrawal, changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in activities, appetite changes (especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates), changes in weight, difficulty concentrating and processing information.

The exact cause of SAD is unknown. However, research suggests that it may occur due to the following reasons: a decrease in serotonin (a chemical messenger in the brain) due to a lack of sunlight; an increase in a hormone called melatonin, which may affect a person’s circadian rhythm (an individual’s internal clock); or other rhythm changes.

Many of us have had the “winter blues,” where we may experience some of the symptoms of SAD or feel “down,” but are able to continue with normal activities of daily living without intervention. However, if your daily living routine is affected by any of the symptoms listed above for more than three days, then you may be suffering from SAD and should seek assistance. Keep in mind that the diagnosis of SAD can be difficult and should be left to a trained medical professional.

If you are diagnosed with SAD, your medical professional may prescribe one of many treatments that have been proven effective, including medication, therapy, counseling or light therapy, and may encourage behavioral changes, such as making yourself take walks outside in the winter and keeping to a set schedule, if possible. My parting advice: Get out and enjoy the winter, be with your friends and family, and frequent the wonderful eateries and attractions in the Heights. If you cannot do these things because of Seasonal Affective Disorder, please do not suffer in silence. Seek help from a medical professional.

Brandi Kohr is a certified, licensed mental health therapist at Paradigm Counseling Ltd. in Cleveland Heights. If you have a mental health topic you would like to see covered in a future edition in the Heights Observer, please e-mail it to or call 216-272-2920.

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Volume 2, Issue 2, Posted 6:11 PM, 12.19.2008