Sunday, December 4, 2022

Disorder fades with sunlight

April 26, 2001

Getting out of school soon isn’t the only thing putting people in a better mood lately.

There is an expected continual warming period with lots of sunshine between today and the weekend, according to the National Weather Service, and most people would say that news puts them in a better mood - at least to some degree.

But there are others who get more serious relief from the sun’s rays beating down for longer periods of time during the day.

Seasonal Affective Disorder has serious effects on about 5 percent of the population, according to Dr. Robert Bielski, director of the MSU Winter Depression Clinic.

“We think the condition is triggered by the shortening of daylight hours during the winter months,” he said. “Right about now, around daylight-saving time and when the weather is getting nicer, is when people are getting better.”

Sunlight produces the chemical serotonin in the human body, which people need for brain functions. In the winter months, when there is less sunlight, there is a depletion of the chemical, which causes the mental changes people experience with the disorder.

People with the disorder usually experience tiredness and fatigue and want to sleep most of the day. Bielski said there is also an increase in a person’s appetite, especially for sweet foods.

“There have been people that we have seen who sleep up to 22 hours a day,” he said. “In one study we did there were people who literally had to be pulled out of bed by their friends.”

When the condition begins to interfere with someone’s life they should seek attention for the condition, Bielski said.

“The critical point for treatment is if they notice their symptoms interfering with their ability to function,” he said. “For a student, they might not be able to concentrate while studying or falling asleep regularly in class.”

Patients coming into the clinic must undergo an evaluation to see whether they are actually suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, Bielski said. One step in detecting the disorder is lending the patient a lamp to sit under that simulates sunlight to see if it will help them.

“We view this as a biological medical illness,” Bielski said. “While it may seem mundane and ordinary, it can have serious effects on the brain.”

While a very small percentage of the population suffers critically from the disorder, Bielski said about half the population reports effects from one or more of its symptoms.

Advertising senior Amy Marion said she notices a huge difference in her activity level from winter to spring and knows it’s not just because it’s cold.

“I go through pretty much the same thing every year,” she said. “I get really tired as the days become shorter and it is hard to motivate myself to do things.”

Although Marion said she has never sought counseling or treatment, she has her own remedies.

“I try to make sure I get a uniform amount of sleep every night,” she said. “I find that a balanced diet and trying to stay active also helps.”

Studio art sophomore Nicole Miranda said she suffers from similar symptoms.

“Some days it is harder to get out of bed than others,” she said. “A lot of times when my alarm goes off it feels like I just went to bed five minutes ago.

“It is more about fatigue and feeling worn out than it is about being tired.”

Miranda said she has sought treatment in the past, but hasn’t found what is right for her.

“I have talked to a few doctors about everything and a lot of times there is just nothing that can be done,” she said. “It’s one of those things you just have to deal with sometimes.”

The MSU Counseling Center also offers services for people who think they are suffering from the disorder. Ann Flescher, assistant director of clinical services for the counseling center, said Seasonal Affective Disorder is similar to forms of depression.

The first suggestion is usually to get a physical, Flescher said.

“A lot of times being tired and fatigued can be another medical condition,” she said

But Flescher said counseling is often the best treatment for someone suffering from the disorder. She said sessions could include education about the disorder as well as suggestions for changes in diet and exercise.

“We try to rule everything else out as a possibility for them feeling the way they are,” Flescher said. “We try to build a support network and put a sense of control back into their lives.

“Today’s a nice day, but tomorrow could be rainy and cloudy and you never know how people will react.”

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