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Charlevoix, Mich. – It’s that time of year again. People living in Northern Michigan get less light this time of year and for many people, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is an unwelcome part of the winter months.

SAD is a type of depression that researchers think is caused by changes in the level of exposure to sunlight. Signs and symptoms of SAD are the same as for major depression. However, with SAD, these signs and symptoms appear in the winter and fall months, and disappear in the spring and summer.

According to Nina Martenson, Charlevoix County Center Supervisor of North Country Community Mental Health, the main symptom is a sad, despairing mood that is present most of the day, nearly every day. “Usually, the symptoms last for more than two weeks and get in the way of the person’s functioning at work, at school or in social relationships.”

Other symptoms of depression include:

• Changes in appetite and weight, usually eating more and craving carbohydrates
• Changes in sleep, usually sleeping too much
• Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
• Withdrawal from family members and friends
• Feeling useless, hopeless, excessively guilty, pessimistic or having low self-esteem
• Agitation or feeling slowed down
• Irritability
• Loss of energy or fatigue despite increased sleep hours
• Trouble concentrating, remembering and making decisions
• Crying easily or feeling like crying but not being able to
• Thoughts of suicide (which should always be taken seriously)

“SAD has been linked to biochemical changes in the brain and appears to be triggered by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in the winter. This may upset a person’s biological clock, which controls sleep-wake patterns or disturb neurotransmitters, such as serotonin or dopamine,” said Martenson.

“Increasing exercise, spending more time outdoors, eating healthy, and staying socially connected are all important to help reduce symptoms of SAD,” said Martenson. Many people who have SAD are also helped by exposure to bright artificial light (light therapy) for at least 20 minutes a day. Various types of light devices are available and can be used at home.

“There are a variety of other treatments for depression as well, including medications and therapy, which can be effective for people with SAD. These treatments may be used individually or in combination,” said Martenson.

North Country Community Mental Health provides services to residents of Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet, Kalkaska and Otsego Counties experiencing a serious mental illness, severe emotional problem, or intellectual/developmental disability, including individuals with co-occurring substance use disorder. Persons wishing to know more about the agency are encouraged to visit www.norcocmh.org or to access services call 877-470-7130.