It is finally fall, y’all, and I am ecstatic for it to be here! Okay, that may be a bit too much excitement, but this time of year brings all my favorite things: cool weather, warm drinks, the best decorations and memorable holiday experiences with loved ones.

Not everyone shares this excitement, however. For some, this time of year can mean a major change in their mental health.

From talking with many friends, I’ve come to learn that a crazy amount of people around me seem to feel the effects of the “winter blues”. This might sound like a simple term to describe just feeling a bit sad, but in reality, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) affects 10 million Americans during the fall and winter months. According to an article in Psychology Today, another 10 to 20 percent of Americans experience the disorder and it is four times more common in women than in men.

When we hear the term SAD, it may not hit home as to just how real this feeling can be for some. SAD is a type of depression that starts in the fall and continues into winter. It can lower your energy levels immensely and cause mood swings.

The Mayo Clinic lists the following as common signs and symptoms of the disorder:

• Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day

• Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed

• Having low energy

• Having problems with sleeping

• Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight

• Feeling sluggish or agitated

• Having difficulty concentrating

• Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty

• Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

While SAD is most commonly experienced in the fall and winter months, a smaller percentage of people do feel symptoms in spring and summer. The two types have symptoms that are specific to the time of year.

Fall and winter SAD:

• Oversleeping

• Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates

• Weight gain

• Tiredness or low energy

Spring and summer SAD:

• Trouble sleeping (insomnia)

• Poor appetite

• Weight loss

• Agitation or anxiety

It is suggested to consult with your doctor if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t find the motivation to do activities you’d normally enjoy doing. It’s is important to seek help especially if your “sleep patterns and appetite have changed, you turn to alcohol for comfort or relaxation, or you feel hopeless or think about suicide.”

There are treatments and therapies available for those who meet the criteria of the disorder, including medication, light therapy, psychotherapy and Vitamin D.

If you’re like me, you’ve waited all year to feel the crisp, cool air, have that first pumpkin spice flavored item or put out your first pumpkin. For your loved one, the changing seasons could mean something very different. Healthline.com suggests these seven phrases you can use to help talk to a loved one with depression.

1. Do you want to talk about it? I am here when you’re ready.

2. What can I do to help today?

3. How are you managing?

4. You are not alone. I may not understand exactly how you feel, but you’re not alone.

5. You’re important to me.

6. That sounds like it’s really hard. How are you coping?

7. I’m really sorry you’re going through this. I’m here for you if you need me.

Emily Kirby is the managing editor for the Times-Journal. She can be reached at emily.kirby@times-journal.com.

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