NEWS9 Special Assignment: More than melancholy
Winter can be a difficult for many.
With the lack of sunlight, many people experience a certain type of depression -- Seasonal Affective Disorder, or "SAD."
Sometimes referred to as the "winter blues," SAD is a significant issue. It gets darker earlier and the lack of sunlight can change people's mood, even their entire personality.
One local woman talked to NEWS9 about her struggle and the way she coped.
"The way that it affects my mood. I'm tired; I'm irritable. I get depressed. I just completely change personality-wise this time of year," said Wheeling’s Kara Kalkreuth.
She says she's always experienced a mood shift when daylight saving time ends.
"Like right now, it's only like 6 o’clock, and it's dark out, and it feels like 10 o’clock to to me and I just want to be in bed,” Kara said.
Doctors at Ohio Valley Medical Center say what's happening to Kara is her body is receiving less sunlight and disrupting her biological clock, resulting in a decrease of serotonin and a disruption in melatonin levels. This change can lead to seasonal affective disorder.
"If you're sleeping too much, sleeping too little, eating too much, or eating too little, or you feel a worsening of your depression symptoms,” Psychiatrist Nihid Gupta said. “Those are red flags."
Gupta works with Therapist Dr. Robert Bowman in OVMC’s Hillcrest Intensive Outpatient Program.
They see a lot of people who struggle with SAD during the cold winter months.
"North of Florida and California, which is the whole of the United States, is at a very high risk of developing SAD," Gupta said.
Kara moved down south for several years before coming back to Wheeling.
"Since I've moved back a couple years ago, I've noticed the winters are not good at all, as far as my mood and everything and the way it affects me," she said.
But Kara says exercise helps.
"Working out helps me, so I’d recommend if you don't exercise, it really boosts your mood and energy levels to do that," she said.
Bowman says those struggling with SAD should exercise at least three times per week.
But he suggests patients avoid exercising or eating late in the day.
Another way to fight SAD is increasing your exposure to light.
"You don't have that factor of additional light to wake you up in the morning, so you need to get up, you need to move as much as possible, you need to open your windows and you need to go outside if possible," Bowman said.
Those who are stuck inside at an office or at home all day should consider light therapy.
Gupta says a light box needs to be close enough for the light to hit your retina, and it should have at least 10,000 lux.
"This does replace the sunlight that you're missing, so it would be mostly during the morning,” Bowman said. “Depending on what your doctor or healthcare provider says, you probably want to spend 30-45 minutes in the presence of this light triggering that internal clock to say, ‘hey I'm awake.’"
Kara hasn't tried light therapy, but she is considering it. She encourages others who are going through SAD to exercise and maybe even join a class at a local gym.
"This time of year, it's definitely key for me to keep my energy up and boost my mood that way," she said.
Gupta says SAD is under-diagnosed in the community but is easily treatable.
Even talk therapy can help. You just have to find what's best for you.