How To Treat Seasonal Affective Disorder
While some of us have the benefit of warm Florida weather year-round, the winter months for many others can bring about more than just cold and snow. In fact, about 5% of adults in the U.S. experience seasonal depression, also called Seasonal Affective Disorder or -— conveniently — SAD.
Often called the “winter blues,” SAD typically occurs around the same time each year, when the seasons change from fall to winter. It’s less common for SAD to occur in the summer or spring seasons, but it can happen.
Like other forms of depression, SAD has the ability to affect various aspects of your life, like your mood, sleep cycle, appetite and energy level. It can make you feel hopeless and tense with little interest in things you’d normally enjoy.
Other symptoms of SAD may include:
Anxiety and a low tolerance for stress
Feeling worthless or guilty
Lethargy and fatigue
Social problems and irritability
Sexual problems and loss of libido
Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
Morbid thoughts of death or suicide
Four out of five people affected by SAD are women, and those living farther from the equator with fewer daylight hours in the winter are at a greater risk of SAD. But no matter who you are or where you live, it is possible to prevent and treat SAD so you can lead a normal life all year long.
How Can I Prevent SAD?
Reduced levels of sunlight can affect your brain’s serotonin levels, which, in turn, can affect your mood and cause you to become depressed. Melatonin, a hormone that affects sleep patterns, is produced in higher quantities when it’s dark, throwing off a person’s circadian rhythm when the days are shorter and the sun goes down earlier.
According to Mental Health America (MHA), certain activities can help offset these occurrences and prevent SAD. MHA says you can exercise regularly to increase serotonin naturally, improve the lighting in your home or visit sunnier climates in the wintertime.
Light therapy - where you sit in front of a device called a light therapy box to absorb bright light similar to natural sunlight — is another option MHA mentions to help realign your circadian rhythm. Meditation and other stress management techniques can also help prevent SAD.
MHA offers a free, anonymous and secure mental health screening to help determine whether you’re at risk of developing SAD.
How Can Medicare Help Treat SAD?
While Medicare won’t pay for light therapy for aesthetic purposes, like tanning the skin, it may cover the cost for someone diagnosed with SAD. If covered, the cost for light therapy would likely fall under Medicare Part B, which deals with durable medical equipment and outpatient services.
Medicare Part B may also cover additional outpatient mental health services related to SAD, like depression screenings, psychotherapy and diagnostic tests.
If you feel down for days and can’t get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, call your doctor. To learn more about the right Medicare coverage for you, call 1-833-463-3262, TTY 711 to speak with a licensed agent at Senior Healthcare Direct.