DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- Not to be confused with the famous blues rhythms of New Orleans, Chicago, and New York, the “winter blues” also known as seasonal affective disorder is a serious medical condition that will, on average, affect over 18 million Americans every year, according to Dr. Norman Rosenthal, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Georgetown University Medical School.
“Most prevalent in adults, seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D., is very closely related to depression,” said Staff Sergeant Corey Pasley, Mental Health Technician, 436th Medical Group. “They are separated by the fact that S.A.D. tends to occur at the change of seasons and most notably in the fall, winter times.”
The disorder goes by many names: Seasonal Depression, S.A.D., The Winter Blues, and more. Many factors play a role in S.A.D., some of which may not be as obvious as others.
“There are 2 main components with S.A.D.; the mental component and chemical component. On the chemical side, S.A.D. is an indication that your body is having a difficult time producing serotonin,” said Pasley. “This creates a big dip in a person’s mood and through no fault of their own! In fact, the drop in serotonin is often in close relation to a lack of sunlight. On the mental side, S.A.D. goes hand-in-hand with depression. The disorder has an effect on depression that can cause a person’s mood to dip even further.”
In a Harvard Medical School study, serotonin was identified as a neurotransmitter (a chemical that relays messages between neurons in the brain) that helps regulate sleep, appetite, mood and even inhibits pain. It is generally regarded as the “happy” chemical by most medical and psychology practitioners.
Pasley says adults are the most likely to be diagnosed with S.A.D. Being aware of the symptoms of the disorder can be a helpful tool in getting the proper treatment one may need.
“One symptom that people don’t pick up on a lot is manic stages. So, they’ll have instances where they are really ‘up,’ or really happy and then everything will flip all of the sudden, and their mood will dip really far ‘down,’” said Pasley. “Another one is a lack of motivation in doing things that you once enjoyed doing. Other than that, S.A.D. has many of the same symptoms as depression.”
Though a lack of sunlight may seem insignificant, Pasley highlighted the importance of sunlight-produced vitamin D, saying, “As human beings, we are supposed to be outside.”
Pasley suggested that exercising outside, participating in outdoor activities, or using a special vitamin D light to replicate natural sunlight can do wonders for warding off a vitamin-D deficiency.
“When you’re outside, even if the sun isn’t out, you’re still getting that sunlight that you need to be healthy,” said Pasley.
Beyond sunbathing, Pasley also recommends that people re-evaluate their sleep schedule and stick to it, increase their gains at the gym and focus on stress management. If anyone is unsure of how to do any of that, there’s plenty of people on base ready to help, to include the 436th Mental Health Flight, the Airman and Family Readiness Center, the Military and Family Life Consultant, the Chaplain Corps, and of course their chain of command.
“For a lot of successful people, they can struggle with asking for additional help. And to someone who knows that they need help and doesn’t get it … I would ask why,” questioned Pasley. “It’s the same as if you broke your arm, you wouldn’t just sit at home! It’s the same [with] something mental or chemical. Why wouldn’t you get help?”
If the winter blues are playing for you this season, it might be time to follow the beat of a different drum. Use the Dover Air Force Base App to find phone numbers, email addresses, and web links for all the helping agencies on base.