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Light treatments, vitamin D supplements can help ease SAD symptoms

SAD symptoms, also called the winter blues, are very similar to other signs of depression.

SAD symptoms, also called the winter blues, are very similar to other signs of depression.

If you’re getting a little tired of short days and long nights, you aren’t alone.

Dr. Stephen Cosby, division director of psychiatry and psychology at Akron Children’s Hospital, estimates that about 7 to 8 percent of northeast Ohioans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

“There are so many gray days in Akron and Cleveland,” said Dr. Cosby. “Even a couple of our clinicians use light therapy to help brighten up the dark days of winter.”

SAD symptoms, also called the winter blues, are very similar to other signs of depression, including overeating, sleeping too much, loss of focus, a family history of SAD and a tendency to isolate yourself from the company of others.

While investing in a trip to the Bahamas may sound tempting, Dr. Cosby says there’s no real cure for SAD. About 75 percent of the people suffering from SAD will benefit by running a full spectrum, 10,000 lumen light in their house for 30-60 minutes a day.

“You don’t want to look directly at it, but it has to be available to be seen by your eyes in the room,” Dr. Cosby said. “You may also want to have your vitamin D levels tested to see if you are deficient. Timed doses of melatonin also may be helpful.”

Some people also benefit from traditional anti-depression medications, such as Prozac or Zoloft.

Dr. Cosby with lumen light

Dr. Cosby with lumen light

Dr. Cosby said the SAD phenomena was first noticed and documented by psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal after he moved from Africa to New York in 1984. He decided to study it at the National Institute of Mental Health and it later became a diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders.

“The incidence of SAD directly correlates with where you live,” said Dr. Cosby. “Only about 1.5 percent of Floridians experience SAD, but as you head north within the Northern Hemisphere to places like Scandinavia and Alaska, 10 percent of the population experience SAD.”

The one exception to that rule, according to Dr. Cosby, is Iceland, which has a very low incidence of SAD. “Icelanders eat a diet composed of a lot of fish, which has a lot of vitamin D, so we think that might be the difference.”

It’s more likely that an adult will be diagnosed with SAD than a child.

“With kids it is difficult to diagnose because there are so many other factors at play that can cause stress, such as school and social media,” Dr. Cosby said. “But the symptoms of SAD are the same in kids as in adults.”

SAD may not be restricted to just humans.

“Some people feel that other species show a variation of SAD,” said Dr. Cosby. “If you look at bears this time of year, they eat a lot, then they go into hibernation. Our bodies have a tendency to slow down this time of year.”

Dr. Cosby recently talked about the occurrence of SAD on cold, gray winter days with Channel 5 reporter Bob Jones. Watch the interview below.