Winter got you down?

February 26, 2017

Winter got you down?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, lack of Vitamin D or clinical depression may be to blame


Day after day of gloomy gray skies and never-ending darkness takes its toll on people living in North Idaho.

Depression, anxiety and not feeling right are the potentially serious mental health problems caused by our long winter months.

“We see a lot of folks with significant mood shifts,” said Dr. David Wait, the Director of Mental and Behavioral Health at Heritage Health.  “I treat severe depression more than anything else and the majority of those patients have a seasonal component to it.”

Many residents seek help for Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that's related to changes in seasons. Typically, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping a person’s energy and causing moodiness or leading to depression. Between 4% and 6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD and another 10% to 20% may experience a mild form of winter-onset SAD.

Treatment for SAD may include light therapy, psychotherapy, and medications, according to the Mayo Clinic. Often the dreary weather is just part of the problem. Dr. Wait said many of his patients have a Vitamin D deficiency. Low Vitamin D levels have been linked to obesity, weight gain and depression, he said. Dr. Wait recommends that everyone socialize a few times a week during the winter months, exercise and eat a healthy diet.

“If you’re feeling fatigued or anxious, it’s a good idea to get Vitamin D screening,” he said. “It’s a good idea for people living here to take 1000- 2,000 units daily during the darker months of the year.”

What are the symptoms of depression?

“Clear symptoms of depression are hopelessness, helplessness, and worthlessness that last for more than 2 weeks.  If a person has these it’s very important for them to seek help,” Dr. Wait said. “Many other symptoms can be part of the picture such as Profound anxiety that doesn’t resolve or major sleep or appetite changes.   If you’re having suicidal thoughts, seek immediate attention.” Dr. Wait added that some people can be severely depressed but friends and families don’t realize it.

“If a person is stoic or has a stiff upper lip, you might never know they’re hurting inside,” he said. “Social isolation is one of the major causes as well as a symptom of depression.  It’s important for friends and family to speak up when they see a change happening, talk to them about it, and urge them to talk to their doctor or a therapist about depression if it is present. People shouldn’t suffer alone.”

“Here at Heritage, I’m proud to be part of a full team of primary care providers, therapists, psychiatric providers who can help.  In addition, we have an educational and exercise group medical visits that can help people with anything ranging from mild seasonal mood shifts to severe depression.  I'm really pleased that we can help people with these services if they have insurance and if they do not, so anyone can get the help they need.”