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Feeling the blues this New Year’s? Try getting a little more sunlight

Sean Higgins

The holiday season is usually a time for happiness and celebration, but for some that’s not the case.

You might feel fatigued, anti-social or even depressed at the same time every year. It’s called seasonal affective disorder and is a common occurrence in the winter months.

An easy treatment could be simply getting out of the winter darkness and living or working in a brighter space. But not just any light will do.

“It has to be the same wavelength as the sun to make a difference, which is why people use light boxes,” said Huntsman Mental Health Institute psychiatrist Dr. Jason Hunziker on University Health’s “The Scope” podcast.

Young people, women and those with underlying mental health issues are at a higher risk of developing the disorder. In some cases, therapy or medication might be needed.

Another factor could be Utah itself. People who live in more northern or southern latitudes from the equator have also been shown to be more susceptible to seasonal affective disorder.

The other thing that occurs in Utah that doesn't occur in other places is our inversion,” Hunziker told “The Scope” podcast. “Even on a bright day, we don't get that [sunlight] because the inversion is there to block the sun. People who live around tall buildings that block the sun tend to get more depressed. If your job is indoors in the basement with no windows during the winter, you're really at risk.”

Social isolation that some people experience can be magnified over the holidays, too. Especially now that many of the pandemic-related restrictions on gatherings have been lifted.

“I feel like as a society, we did a good job at coming together [during the pandemic],” said Rachael Jasperson, speaking at a roundtable on suicide prevention in October. Jasperson is the Zero Suicide program manager at the institute. “And even though we were physically isolated, there were a lot of messages of hope and collectivity. Now that COVID is sort of not as central in our lives as it once was, we're going back to ‘normal,’ right? And as we go back to normal, that social isolation may start to resurface.”

With the holidays now behind us, Jasperson said the best way to identify depression and seek treatment is to talk about it with friends and family.

Sean is KUER’s politics reporter.
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