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What is Seasonal Depression and How is it Treated

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression that is related to seasonal changes. Deborah Blazzard, Board Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, discusses this condition.
What is Seasonal Depression and How is it Treated
Deborah Blazzard, ARNP
Deb Blazzard, ARNP, is a Board Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Palouse Psychiatry and Behavioral Health; part of the Pullman Regional Hospital Clinic Network. She has experience in all forms of mental health concerns, including depression, anxiety mood disorders, schizophrenia, and PTSD. She is passionate about mental health and believes in treating the whole person.

Evo Terra (Host):  This is the Health Podcast, the show by Pullman Regional Hospital. I’m Evo Terra. A few years ago, I spent three months in a small town well off the tourist track in southeast Asia. Now it happened to be during the rainy season. And there was a three week period where it rained nonstop. I’m not kidding. The contrast to where I had spent the prior 20 some odd years, the desert southwest of America was striking. Not seeing the sun for 20 days wrecked my mood and gave me just a taste of what people mean by seasonal affective disorder. Now I’m back in Arizona and today, I’m talking with Board-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Deborah Blazzard to find out if I’m safe from feeling that way again even when the sun is shining bright. So, tell me Deborah, what is seasonal affective disorder/ seasonal depression and perhaps more importantly, how do I know if I have it?

Deborah Blazzard, ARNP (Guest):  That’s a good question. So, seasonal affective disorder is actually a subtype of depression and really, it’s related to changes in the seasons. So, sometimes the acronym for it is S-A-D or SAD. Usually it begins and ends at about the same time every year. You’re most likely to see people with SAD during the winter months but there are times during the spring that it also occurs when it starts getting lighter. So, that is just in a nutshell what seasonal affective disorder is.

Host:  So, it makes sense to me that as times get darker outside, as winter sets in and we have less sunlight during the day that someone would experience that. But you just said that in the springtime when the sun is returning more, we have more light coming in, that can affect some people. So, some people prefer the darkness?

Deborah:  I do have patients that actually do better with the darkness because in some of my patients, when it gets lighter, they actually start getting more irritated and more irritable which is actually another sign of depression. So, yeah, it also occurs in the spring.

Host:  So, what do we think is the cause behind SAD?

Deborah:  That is a great question and it’s up for much debate but there’s people who are genetically predisposed to seasonal affective disorder. Obviously, there is a component with the light and people seem to experience these symptoms of depression more during the winter months. So, those are just two of the things that happen with seasonal affective disorder.

Host:  Yeah sometimes I know it’s a challenge to get to the root cause so let’s switch and talk about commonality. Is this a fairly common problem?

Deborah:  I seem to see it more because I live in the Pacific Northwest and we get darker right now at about 4 p.m. and it doesn’t get light until almost 7 in the morning. So, I would say yes, but then I suspect if you were to go to places like Florida or Texas or somewhere that gets more sun; I bet it would be less common if I had a practice there. So, it’s hard to say just because where I live, I would say that it is pretty common but it’s kind of what I’m seeing right now.

Host:  So, what are the main signs and symptoms that might indicate that someone perhaps me is suffering from SAD?

Deborah:  Some specific things to winter onset are oversleeping for some people, appetite changes especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates, weight gain. I see a lot of tiredness and low energy and that’s typically what bring a lot of my patients to me because they just don’t have any energy despite having slept 12 hours and so they don’t understand what’s going on. So, those are four symptoms just specific to winter onset SAD.

Host:  So, this sounds like a problem that we know a lot of people are dealing with. How are we dealing with it? What treatment options are available for people who do suffer from this?

Deborah:  By the time people come and see me, we are looking at different medications that might help with their symptoms that they are experiencing. But there’s also a lot of efficacy with cognitive behavioral therapy. Some of my patients too who may already be on some type of antidepressant but can feel themselves slipping with the weather changes; we suggest using some light therapy and oftentimes we don’t even have to use medications at all, just some additional light therapy seems to alleviate some of the symptoms that my patients are having.

Host:  Oh that is fascinating stuff. Well thank you very much for your time Deborah, we appreciate it. That’s Deborah Blazzard, a Board-Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Palouse Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, part of the Pullman Regional Hospital Clinic Network. Thank you for listening to this episode of The Health Podcast, the show by Pullman Regional Hospital. I am Evo Terra. If you found this episode helpful, please share it on your social channels. And be sure to check the entire library of past episodes. You can learn more at