Combating seasonal affective disorder

HOUGHTON – As the long, dark winter of the Keweenaw drags on, nearing its midpoint, residents may find themselves feeling downbeat, more irritable than usual and gaining weight.

These symptoms and others may be indicative of seasonal affective disorder, as the lack of sunlight throughout the winter can start to affect people’s psyches.

“Some of the symptoms for the fall onset of SAD are getting more sleep than usual, having more of an appetite, gaining weight, an increase in irritability, having trouble with relationships and feeling heavy, with weighted arms,” said Patricia Koskiniemi, family nurse practitioner at the Aspirus Keweenaw Lake Linden Clinic. “Most of the time fairly mild symptoms can be treated with light therapy, but if people have severe symptoms, they sometimes may need antidepressants or psychotherapy.”

Much of SAD’s symptoms derive from winter’s shorter days, as people may both go to and from work while it’s dark. The general dreariness of northern United States winters also contribute, which can be helped by light therapy much of the time, according to Koskiniemi.

“Light therapy is a full spectrum light that mimics sunlight without UV rays,” she said. “It mimics the waking period … stimulating the brain and decreasing the symptoms of depression.”

The full spectrum light comes in both fluorescent varieties – which are most often installed in workplaces, according to Koskiniemi – and smaller models intended for the individual.

“The desk models, some insurance companies will pay for those,” Koskiniemi said. “Some of the department stores probably sell them as well, but for insurance to cover it you have to be diagnosed with SAD.”

If people are feeling some of these symptoms, it would not hurt for them to get checked out by a medical professional, Koskiniemi said.

“We encourage people to at least get examined,” she said.