What's Going Around: Seasonal affective disorder

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. - The lack of exposure to sunlight in the winter months can not only affect our moods, but can also lead to a disorder.

It's called Seasonal Affective Disorder, better known as SAD.

And doctors say it can be serious.

"Because of the lack of sunlight it causes problems with the sleep/wake cycle, Vitamin D deficiency as well as impacting a chemical in our brains called serotonin," explains Dr. Jason Glass, a Psychologist for the Ozarks Community Hospital in Springfield.

Dr. Glass says there's one easy way to tell if a person is suffering from SAD.

It has to do with the time of year they feel depressed.

"A person has to have two consecutive seasons of having symptoms of depression such as feeling down, sad, lethargic, or a feeling of hopelessness," Glass says.

Doctors also say craving carbs, overeating and feeling like you need to sleep all the time are good indicators you could be suffering from SAD.

Living here in the Ozarks also makes people more susceptible to this disorder than other places in the country.

"Missouri is pretty ripe for SAD because of our distance from the equator," explains Dr. Thomas Blansett, another psychologist with the Ozarks Community Hospital.

Dr. Blansett says exposure to a certain amount of light and doing light therapy is efficient with treating SAD patients.

"Studies have shown it’s not the type or quality of light but amount of light that an individual needs," says Dr. Blansett.

At least 30 minutes of light a day will help, but doctors say if it doesn't, be on the lookout for the warning signs.

"It is starting to interfere with work, school, or maybe you’re getting those thoughts of suicide, that's when they need to consult their physician about being treated for it," says Dr. Glass.

Some people are also diagnosed with SAD during the summertime.

Those individuals have the feelings of depression and hopelessness during the summer months but not during the winter months.

Psychologists also say SAD can mask other disorders which is why it's always important to talk to you doctor if you start having these feelings.