Presenter covers SAD basics

Staff photo by Connor Cummiskey The Treatment Director of Nova House Jolene Hanson presented a basic rundown of symptoms, treatments and suspected causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Monday in the basement of the public library.

NEW ULM — The basics of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) were run down in a presentation Monday at the New Ulm Public Library.

In a presentation arranged by the Local Advisory Council on Mental Health, Nova House Treatment Director Jolene Hanson spoke on the symptoms, causes and treatments for SAD.

“It is something that is typical,” Hanson said. “It is a subtype of depression, so it is a form of depression, and that comes around typically around fall, late fall and early winter.”

SAD’s timing is linked to the shortening days in fall and winter. Although a reverse SAD occurs in spring and summer, it is far rarer.

“Our days are shorter, we do not get as much sunlight, and it is tough on our mental health,” Hanson said.

Symptoms of SAD include: irritability, low energy, problems getting along, hypersensitivity to rejection, oversleeping, appetite changes and weight gain.

Spring and summer SAD symptoms are: depression, trouble sleeping, weight loss, poor appetite and agitation or anxiety, according to a handout from Hanson.

While it is common to feel blue as the days shorten, SAD goes beyond being bummed about the cold, dark season.

“It is physically debilitating for you to get out of bed,” Hanson said. “You cannot participate in things that you once enjoyed, you are struggling to be happy.”

SAD should be taken seriously, as symptoms could get worse, leading to suicidal thoughts or behavior, social withdrawal and substance abuse, according to the handout.

The exact cause of SAD has not been determined. However, there are a few factors that are believed to play a role.

The reduced levels of sunlight could disrupt a person’s circadian rhythms, their sleep patterns, leading to depression.

Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, may play a role because reduced sunlight causes drops in the chemical.

Melatonin, which also plays a role in mood and sleep patterns, can be disrupted by the change of seasons, according to the handout.

There are also a few risk factors that can increase the chances of SAD. One is being female. Women are more likely to be diagnosed; however, men tend to have more severe symptoms. Young people are at higher risk for winter SAD, as are those with a family history of depression, already being clinically depressed or bipolar and living far from the equator.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to treat SAD. One is light therapy, or phototherapy, where a patient can sit a few feet from a special light called a light box.

The light box mimics natural light and is brighter. It is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, according to Mayo Clinic’s website.

Medication, primarily antidepressants, can help. Doctors will often start with looking at vitamins, mostly vitamin D, then move onto possible prescriptions, Hanson said.

“The thing with medication is, it takes the edge off but we still need to be able to use our skills and to practice those things because it does not fix everything for us. But meds do help,” Hanson said.

Psychotherapy can also help people suffering from SAD to learn healthy coping strategies.

There are lifestyle changes that can help. Mostly, get outside, exercise or brighten up your living area.

“In the winter, yes, it is very difficult to want to get outside, especially when it is negative 20 with a windchill,” Hanson said. “If it is sunny, open your curtains, turn your lights on, give yourself some light.”

One woman at the presentation suggested changing lightbulbs to help recreate natural lighting indoors.

“Something else that helps, too, it is a little bit more expensive but, I changed the lightbulbs in my house to LED because it is supposed to have a more natural light,” social worker Mary Enander said.

More information on SAD can be found at or by looking up the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at


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