Tribune-Review: SAD no more: Live Well Bethel Park program addresses cures for winter blues

You’ll lose an hour of rest on March 12, but the tradeoff may be well worth it.

When Daylight Saving Time starts at 2 o’clock that morning, it ushers in a natural remedy for what’s ailing plenty of Western Pennsylvanians.

“Less sunlight during the day affects how our bodies regulate serotonin and melatonin,” Dr. Sabrina Platt said. “And when levels of these hormones are thrown off, it can affect our mood and sleep.”

The result can be a case of seasonal affective disorder, with the highly appropriate acronym SAD, which in serious cases has the potential for basically incapacitating some people.

Platt, a family nurse practitioner with St. Clair Medical Group, discussed the condition during the latest edition of the Live Well Bethel Park series of monthly informational programs.

“If you face any of the symptoms I’m about to discuss, please know that you’re not alone, and there is treatment,” Platt said at the start of the program, produced by Bethel Park Public Access Television and streamed on Feb. 8 through social media.

Examples include weight gain, craving carbohydrates, fatigue, trouble concentrating, sleeping too much, slowed movements or speech, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, “and other things that make you feel not like yourself,” she said. “Five or more of these symptoms are enough for a provider to diagnose you with SAD.”

Those who don’t suffer from quite as many symptoms may be subject to subsyndromal SAD, commonly called the winter blues.

“You’re not completely disabled by winter,” Platt said, “but you’re not at your best.”

For a type of treatment, she recommended shedding some light on the matter.

“Sitting in front of a light box for 30 minutes a day before the hour of 8 a.m. can actually trick your brain into thinking that it’s daylight,” she said, recommending a unit with an intensity of 10,000 lux. “You can find light therapy over the counter, but make sure to talk with your primary care provider for a diagnosis, as treatment for SAD can make other conditions, like bipolar disorder, actually worse.

“Other ways to fight off the winter blues include getting outside to soak up as much natural sunlight as possible, exercising daily and forcing yourself to be social. Schedule a lunch or outing with a friend, even if you don’t feel like it can actually help your mood.”

Diet also figures prominently, and Platt’s suggestion is to eat green, leafy vegetables, along with foods containing healthy carbohydrates — unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, fruits and beans — “and even the occasional dark chocolate.”

She acknowledged tendencies to dispute the validity of seasonal affective disorder as a debilitating condition.

“A lot of people think it’s just fluff,” she said. “However, it’s a real diagnosis.”

Joining Platt for the SAD program was Chuck Stover, Bethel Park recreation director.

“People still don’t give mental illness the attention they should,” he said. “It is a very important topic that I think needs to be addressed more, not just SAD but all mental illness, so we have a better understanding of it.”

Coming up in the Live Well Bethel Park series:

• March 15 – Supporting Mental Health in Youth Athletes (rescheduled from December). Becky Luzier, Bethel Park High School girls lacrosse coach, will lead a discussion on the signs and symptoms of mental health issues and how to seek treatment.

• April 12 – Pet Care, Pet Health and Training Tips. Among the topics to be addressed are allergies, behavioral issues, injuries, foods that are toxic and common illnesses, including symptoms and treatments. Community members will have the opportunity to email questions to the speaker prior to the presentation.

The programs air at 7 p.m. on the Municipality of Bethel Park Facebook page.

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Harry Funk is a Tribune-Review news editor. You can contact Harry at [email protected].