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Wintertime condition prevalent in northern climes

December 4, 2012
By KYLE WHITNEY - Journal Staff Writer ( , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE - As winter encroaches on the Marquette area, local residents may find themselves dealing with seasonal affective disorder, a common type of depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic, SAD is a depressive state that occurs at the same time every year. It typically shows up during a change in seasons, and is most prevalent in the winter.

"Usually, (people will experience) a decrease in mood, energy, concentration, appetite," said Mindy Miller, the clinical supervisor of behavioral health services with Marquette General Hospital. "It usually isn't something that stems from a situation, like a death or a job change."

Article Photos

Northern Michigan University student Nicole Cornell jogs with her dog on Harris Street in Marquette on Monday afternoon. As winter descends on the region, some residents may be facing seasonal depression and medical professionals say exercise is a great way to avoid funks related to seasonal affective disorder. (Journal photo by Matt Keiser)

While SAD can present during any seasonal shift - the time of year differs among people - it is most common as daylight begins to dwindle.

Miller said research shows areas that get less exposure to sunlight, like Finland for example, demonstrate a higher instance of seasonal affective disorder.

In Marquette County, she said, the month of January provides residents with only 19 hours of direct sunlight with no cloud cover.

"The sun is pretty much why people get this disorder," Miller said. "When the light begins to diminish, you will see symptoms progressing. A lot of times it gets worse just after the holidays. A lot of times people associate the holidays with the blues."

And while it is normal for people to go to bed earlier and become slightly less active in the winter, Miller said the downturn in activity should raise a red flag if it is excessive. If, for example, you find yourself going to bed early instead of eating dinner or in order to avoid interacting with people, you may want to see a professional.

The lack of natural sunlight, according to Miller, decreases the brain's production of serotonin, a chemical that helps to regulate moods and energy level.

For those coping with SAD, Miller said she often suggests a healthy diet, exercise and possible light therapy.

"Whenever there is a bright, sunny day, I tell people to get out and move in it," she said. "Get out and snowshoe, walk the dog."

Exercise increases serotonin and the production of the chemical can be spurred by natural light, but can't be mimicked by normal lights or tanning beds. Light therapy, however, uses special lights to impart vitamins and increase serotonin production.

Light therapy typically takes between 30 and 60 minutes daily and the lights can be purchased on the Internet.

If you suffer from SAD, Miller suggested reviewing your vitamin D intake with your primary care physician. If an increase is suggested, good sources of vitamin D include salmon, oysters and many soy products, in addition to supplements.

Most people will see acceptable levels of improvement through the implementation of dietary and exercise changes, as well as light therapy. For some people, though, additional medication may be necessary. Miller cautions everyone with any level of SAD to avoid alcohol and drugs.

Kyle Whitney can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250.



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