As much of the U.S. is recovering from record-breaking cold and winter storms, more people may be reflecting on how they feel during the winter season. Seasonal Depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D., is the topic of discussion in this week's podcast episode of It's Probably Not Rocket Science (IPNRS). This episode delves into the complex details of what S.A.D. is, how to cope with it, and when to seek help. Dr. Kristina Sowar from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center joins IPNRS as a guest.

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Dr. Kristina Sowar

Sowar is an associate professor in the Department of Psychiatry and serves as the program director for the General Psychiatry Residency. She is also the co-director for the Office of Wellbeing at UNM. Her work involves alternating between child inpatient units and clinical outpatient units that cater to adults and children with eating disorders. With her extensive experience, she can distinguish between what is often referred to as the "winter blues" and Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The main distinction between Seasonal Affective Disorder and other depressive disorders is that S.A.D. is triggered by seasonal changes. This can manifest in various forms, making it difficult for some individuals to differentiate between the disorders.

Similar to other mental health conditions, Seasonal Affective Disorder has a specific set of diagnostic criteria and a wide range of associated symptoms. Pinpointing the disorder can be challenging, as some individuals may exhibit symptoms that do not fit the criteria for a specific disorder but still fall within the realm of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Sowar explained, "Seasonal Affective Disorder is a formal disorder in our psychiatric diagnostic manual, and it really reflects a depth of substantial impact on mood, energy, and general depressive symptoms that are associated with the change in season."

Other symptoms may affect concentration, focus, and appetite, but mood and motivation are typical indicators of the disorder.

“They notice that they're just not quite as excited or energetic about doing activities. If it's not severe enough or if it doesn't come in the sort of whole picture of other symptoms, it may not meet criteria.”

Sowar offers some helpful tips for those dealing with seasonal depression in the episode.

If self-help strategies are ineffective, seeking external help is crucial. This may involve reaching out for therapy, counseling, or other forms of support.

“Thankfully, it seems like there's more normalizing in today's society to talk about mental health and for people to be seeking care and seeking support,” Sowar reflected. “I think there's still stigma - and sometimes still difficulty - for people to feel like they can talk about what's happening psychologically or to reach out for professional help. I think we just want to continue to promote safe spaces for people to be able to acknowledge and process how they're feeling.”

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