(WSYR) — If the recent change from summer to fall is bringing you down, you’re not by yourself.
As cooling temperatures and lessening daylight become more common, so does seasonal depression. But there are tips that can help people struggling with it.
“Some people are prone to depression when there’s a lack of sunlight, and they start to feel down in the dumps,” says Dr. Rich O’Neill, professor of psychology at the State University of New York, Upstate.
The most difficult months for people with seasonal depression — or seasonal affective disorder (SAD) — tend to be January and February, but it can start now — and more commonly in women than men.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, seasonal depression consists of mood changes during short periods when they feel sad or unlike themselves, typically brought on by the change in season.
This is different from major depression, which is “more than feeling down or having a bad day,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Major depression, the CDC says, occurs when “a sad mood lasts for a long time and interferes with normal, everyday functioning.”
The American Psychiatric Association says about 5% of U.S. adults experience seasonal depression, with symptoms similar to major depression.
“It’s important not to think, ‘Oh this is a change in the season’ without getting properly diagnosed. So you want to work with some mental health professional to help you sort out what is the cause of this,” O’Neill said.
There are many ways to treat seasonal depression, including methods that mimic sunlight.
“Just take a little bit of time sitting in front of a light box every day, where you’re getting the same kind of light in your eyes and in your brain that you get from the sun,” O’Neill said, referring to a type of light therapy.
Additionally, people with SAD can simply stand in front of a window when it’s light out or go outside to get more light. Vitamin D can also help, as well as getting more exercise.
“Most people in the United States are exercise-deprived, and if you get moving again — which is hard to do in the winter time — you can get a boost in your mind,” O’Neill said.
Medications and psychotherapy are other options when seasonal depression progresses beyond the winter blues.
If you suffer from seasonal depression, the NIH suggests talking to your health care provider to find a treatment that’s right for you.