Carilion expert: Stigma around seasonal depression is lessening

Being around bright lights, limiting holiday stress are keys to combating seasonal affective disorder, expert says

ROANOKE, Va. – If the gloomy weather has you feeling the winter blues, you may be among the millions of Americans who suffer from a more serious depression.

3-5% of us suffer specifically from seasonal affective disorder, also called SAD, but the shorter days impact around 20 percent of people overall, according to Dr. Robert Trestman, Psychiatry and Behavioral Medicine chair at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke.

“It really has an impact on a lot of us,” Trestman said.

He said he's glad to see that there seems to be less and less stigma around seasonal depression.

The symptoms include having a hard time concentrating, low energy, disturbed sleep, low appetite and feeling happy less of the time.

Light therapy -- or having bright lights in your home or at work -- can help. Some specialized lights can be found online for around $30.

“There are different lights that you can rig to your computer, your phone, so they will wake up you with a bright, dawn light,” Trestman said. “Just having a work light near your desk that’s shining on you -- it doesn’t have to shine into your eyes, but just onto you -- if you are indeed sensitive to the seasons, it will help.”

It can also help to limit how much we worry, particularly during the holidays. Stress can compound the symptoms of SAD.

Trestman says to plan travel early, buy presents early, find inexpensive gifts if money is tight and don’t let it get to you if you don’t find that perfect gift for loved ones.

“Just realize that it’s okay. All you need to do is let them know you genuinely care,” Trestman said.

People can be diagnosed with SAD if they’ve met the criteria for at least two years. Trestman stressed that seasonal depression is treatable.