(Trenton) With the official start of winter on December 21, many New Jerseyans are spending an increased amount of time indoors without exposure to the sun. While they may experience some feelings of depression and anxiety as a result, they could also be suffering from a more serious medical condition known as Seasonal Affective Disorder – or SAD – if these feelings persist.
“Being confined to your home without getting enough sunlight can lead to feelings of isolation, a lack of energy, weight gain, depression and anxiety, all of which are symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a serious medical condition that, if not treated, may lead to health crisis,” said Dr. Poonam Alaigh, Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services.
“Statistics show that in New Jersey, an average of 8 percent of people experience Seasonal Affective Disorder. In severe cases thoughts of suicide and aggression can result,” said Jennifer Velez, Esq. Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Human Services. “I am urging anyone who may be experiencing symptoms common to the disorder to call the Division of Mental Health Services for help.”
The National Institute of Health estimates that over 36 million Americans suffer depressive symptoms brought on by the winter months. Up to 1/5 of adults in the United States have symptoms of SAD but do not meet the diagnostic criteria for the disorder. SAD typically first develops in the early twenties; however the condition can affect people of all ages. Over 70 percent of those diagnosed with the SAD are woman.
Although the exact causes of SAD are unknown, experts believe that it may be caused by a lack of sunlight upsetting the sleep-wake cycle and other circadian rhythms. This in turn affects a brain chemical called serotonin that is known to have a direct affect on mood. Additionally, Melatonin, a sleep-related hormone, also has been associated to SAD. Melatonin has been linked to depression and is produced at increased levels in the dark. In the winter, when days are shorter, more melatonin is produced.
There are many methods and treatments to successfully manage this short-term syndrome. It is important to consult your physician for any concerns you may have. In addition, people can contact the Division of Mental Health Services toll free for information and referrals at 800-382-6717 or through New Jersey Mental Health Cares at 1-866-202-HELP (4357).
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