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'Blue Monday' | The saddest day of the year, effects of seasonal affective disorder

Do you experience feeling down or sad during the winter months each year? You might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The third Monday in January is called Blue Monday, also known as the saddest day of the year. Feeling down on this day is a sign of the winter blues, but for others, this day can last all season.

Do you experience feeling down or sad during the winter months each year? You might be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a type of depression that is characterized by the seasonal pattern. The signs and symptoms of SAD are often similar to the symptoms of major depression, according to Kelley Breidigan with Ohio State's College of Social work.

"The symptoms of SAD are very similar in some ways to what we would see with just major depression," Breidigan said. "But what's unique with the SAD pattern is you would see things also like oversleeping, a craving for carbohydrate-rich foods, weight gain, a social withdrawal piece to it, almost as if they're just kind of hunkering down and hibernating, just really trying to keep themselves out of connection with others. Again, that can accompany what we'd see (with) major depression."

Symptoms of major depression may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
  • Having problems with sleep
  • Having low energy
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Possibly having thoughts of death or suicide

Additional, specific SAD symptoms may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, often craving carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

Breidigan said the causes of SAD are still unknown but theories suggest that people with SAD may have reduced activity of the brain chemical serotonin, which helps regulate mood. 

Also, sunlight has an effect on the levels of molecules that help maintain serotonin levels and people with SAD also produce too much melatonin, which can increase sleepiness. 

According to Breidigan, treatments for SAD include light therapy, Vitamin D, Psychotherapy and Antidepressant medications. 

"One of the most important things that I like to see with clients is really having them track the improvement that they're seeing. A lot of times I have them scale, so I'll have them come in and create a baseline, 'Where do you feel now on a zero to 10 scale,' and then we start tracking over a period of time, how that mood shifts or changes or doesn't change depending on the certain type of treatment that they're receiving," Breidigan said. "If we're not improving those symptoms, then we need to change or add something to that treatment regimen to see if we can improve the symptoms."

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