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June 24, 2024

Cases of Seasonal Depression on the Rise Across North America

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Jan 21, 2024

The winter months often bring feelings of sadness and low motivation referred to as the “winter blues.” However, for millions of North Americans, the cold dark days can trigger a more severe form of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Recent reports indicate that cases of SAD are spiking across Canada and parts of the northern United States. Experts say this uptick underscores the serious mental health effects of seasonal changes and point to a need for greater awareness and support.

Steep Rise in Diagnoses

Statistics from the US and Canada reveal a substantial increase in seasonal depression this year compared to prior winters.

  • Diagnoses of SAD at clinics in regions like Quebec, Minnesota, and South Dakota jumped 25-35% over the past month based on physician reports.
  • Google search interest for terms related to “winter depression” also peaked in late December across northern states, suggesting more people are experiencing symptoms.
  • According to Dr. Mark Newson, a psychiatrist at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, “we’ve seen a huge wave of new referrals for depressive episodes that correlate with less sunlight.”

Officials have flagged the Great Lakes region, Pacific Northwest, and New England as hotspots for pronounced winter gloom. However, warmer southern cities are not immune – Atlanta counselors note a pattern of clients mentioning increased sadness around the holidays.

While more research is needed, climate change may be exacerbating downswings tied to shorter days and colder weather. Irregular seasonal shifts can disrupt circadian rhythms that regulate mood. Patients also cite lengthy pandemic isolation as a contributing factor.

Signs and Symptoms

SAD is characterized by depression symptoms occurring during fall and winter months, with relief coming in the spring. Key indicators include:

  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Social withdrawal
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Changes in sleep and appetite

“People feel helpless and weighed down,” explains Dr. Jessica Strong, psychologist and director of the Winter Depression Clinic in Burlington, Vermont. “Simple tasks become extremely taxing.”

In severe cases, suicidal thoughts may emerge, underscoring why rapid treatment is vital. Symptoms typically persist day after day rather than fluctuating as they might with major depressive disorder.

Light Therapy Brings Relief

While talk therapy and in some cases medication can alleviate SAD, many patients find success through light therapy. This involves sitting near a specialized lamp that simulates natural outdoor light for 30 minutes or more daily.

“Light therapy kickstarts neurotransmitter changes similar to what spring sunlight does,” Strong says. “The effects are remarkable – improved mood, alertness, motivation – often visible in days.”

Experts target 10,000 lux brightness or more for optimal results. That said, simply taking brief outdoor winter walks can lift spirits, especially on sunny days.

Purchasing dedicated SAD lamps has become popular, albeit expensive, amid routine remote work and schooling. Philips and Carex are the most trusted brands, with quality full-spectrum models running $140 and up.

SAD Lamp Brand Average Cost Lux Range Key Features
Philips $140-200 up to 10,000 Blue light for serotonin boost; auto-dimming; 3-yr warranty
Carex Day-Light Classic $170 10,000 Compact size; 5-yr warranty; wall mountable
Circadian Optics Lumine $60 10,000 Budget buy; adjustable stand; 5-yr warranty

Experts caution that light therapy should complement other SAD care – not replace psychological services or pharmaceutical intervention if warranted. Patients with eye conditions or on certain medications should consult their physician before using bright light boxes.

Outlook: Seeking Support to Power Through

The spike in seasonal depression diagnoses shows no signs of slowing down as regions plunge deeper into the dark winter period. With weeks or months of difficult weather still ahead, those struggling have ample reason to seek help through counselors, support groups, or SAD-focused treatment regimens.

Building resilience now can better prepare one to withstand next year’s cold months. Dr. Strong advises patients to “strengthen social connections and self-care habits so you have reserves when sadder days come.”

Subsections

Preventative Steps

While seasonal sadness can be biologically hardwired, professionals say several practices help reduce vulnerability:

  • Regular exercise – Ideally 30 mins+ at moderate intensity most days
  • Stress management through yoga, music, etc.
  • Vitamin D supplements to compensate for less sun exposure
  • Light therapy starting in early fall may prevent episodes
  • Take brief daily walk breaks

“Bolstering overall wellbeing seems to help patients handle dips better,” Newson notes. “Low-cost proactive steps can really make an impact.”

Contributing Factors

Doctors point to some subtle seasonal changes that may amplify downswings for susceptible individuals:

Post-holiday slump – High festive expectations unmatched by reality
Financial Stress – Heating bills, holiday debt, low shopping sales
Bad weather limiting activities – Cabin fever from being stuck indoors
Seasonal introspection & reflection – Taking gloomy stock of life status

“Mood symptoms often persist through January, if not longer,” Strong indicates. “Spring sunshine helps, but doesn’t instantly fix things.”

Regional Differences

  • Upper Midwest & Great Lakes depression rates highest
  • New England significant SAD hotspot
  • Short overcast winter days impact Pacific Northwest
  • High altitude areas like Denver see elevated disorders
  • Sun Belt cities less but still substantially affected

Southern states may have milder winter weather, but seasonal sadness still strikes displaced northerners and sensitive locals. University counselors across the ACC, SEC, and Big 12 report rising therapy appointments for seasonal issues.

“The winter physical and emotional toll manifests everywhere to an extent,” Florida State University psychologist Dr. Carl Johnston suggests. “Students mentioning gloom from back home absolutely affects me here also.”

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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