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Winter Blues: Lack of Sun Often Leads to Depression

The winter-time blues is more than an expression, it's real. Researchers at the University of Vermont are taking notice.
BURLINGTON, Vt. - The winter-time blues is more than an expression, it's real. Researchers at the University of Vermont are taking notice.

We're nearing the middle of winter.

So far, we haven't seen one single sunny day in Burlington, that's a day with less than 30% cloud cover.

Plattsburgh is faring a little better. There have been two sunny days since December 1.

The good news, UVM says, is that the future is bright for those suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Even on yet another cloudy day in Vermont, walking into Dr. Kelly Rohan's office offers a glimmer of hope.

"This is not a coincidence, I take my surroundings very seriously given my line of work," Dr. Kelly Rohan, Professor of Psychology at UVM, said.

Two windows, bright yellow walls, and stunning pictures of the Greek Islands act as a substitute to sunshine. Since 2008, Dr. Rohan's conducted a winter blues study with nearly 200 locals impacted by SAD.

"Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a form of clinical depression that takes place in the fall and winter months, and fully goes away in the spring and summer months," Rohan said.
 
People in the study were treated with behavioral and light therapy and were monitored over several winters.

Early results show that helps.

"We see a nice improvement in depression severity and its comparable in the cognitive behavioral therapy and light therapy conditions," Rohan said.

That's positive news, since so many suffer.

"It affects about 1 in 10 people who live in Vermont at this kind of latitude, and most of us who live at a high latitude are going to experience some symptoms its really just a question of how bad they are," Rohan said.

Those symptoms include feeling sad or tired, losing interest in things, eating more, or in the most serious cases, suicidal thoughts.

Some people say they actually like the clouds because they bring snow, and of course that's good for things like skiing. For others, who don't like the clouds, and are looking for a little relief from the mid winter blues, the experts have some tips.

"What I recommend is for people to try to maintain their routines in the winter to stay as active as they can," Rohan said. "Even a morning walk for 30 minutes in the morning as the sun is coming up is pretty effective it turns out for putting a dent in the winter blues symptoms. That's something everyone can do as long as they dress appropriate."

Rohan says the length of day also plays a big role in SAD.  As the days get longer, the impacts go down.

Right now we're gaining about 2 minutes of daylight a day.

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