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'It's a compounding effect': Pandemic is worsening seasonal affective disorder

Physicians are seeing an increase in S.A.D. cases as people not only deal with seasonal depression, but also COVID-19

BOISE, Idaho — People living in the northern United States are at a greater risk for seasonal affective disorder because our winters are typically longer and harsher.

Erika Aragona, a family physician at Saint Alphonsus, said symptoms can range from feeling a little blue to dealing with major fatigue. The disorder is tied to the darker, colder months when there is less sunlight.

"Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, as we call it, is essentially defined by having an episode of depression or mania or hypomania, but basically what that means is your mood shifts. It usually worsens for a short period of time, and it's usually around a season," she said. "So I'll have a patient that feels fine and as it gets into the fall and winter starts to get gloomy. They feel sad. They can feel hopeless, they can feel really fatigued or have trouble sleeping and it's tied directly to that new season."

Aragona said this year the pandemic has played a major part in the cases she's seeing. Mood disorders as a whole have gone up over the last year, she said.

"S.A.D. has definitely increased, and we know it's more common in winter than in other months as well," Aragona said. "So you add those two to the isolation of the pandemic, and people are already struggling with socialization or getting ill themselves, or the loss of not seeing their loved ones in their family, and that makes mood symptoms worse, so it's a compounding effect."

Aragona says the disorder is common and treatable, urging anyone suffering to not let the stigma of mental health keep them from reaching out to a professional. Treatment options are available both in person and via telemedicine.

"A lot of patients, and it's understandable, don't want to leave their house right now," she said. "The pandemic is scary - as a doctor, I'm afraid sometimes, and I want to be real about it, because it's OK to seek help in the comfort of your home."

"It's something we can work on together," Aragona continued. "You're not alone."


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