Interviewer: Ten percent of people living in Utah are at a higher risk for seasonal affective disorder. We're talking today with Dr. Jason Hunziker. First of all, why are we, living in Utah, at a higher risk?
People Living in the Northern Latitudes Are at Higher Risk for SAD
Dr. Hunziker: There are a lot of theories as to why people who live in the northern latitudes are at higher risk of this type of depression. One of those theories is the fact that there just is not as much daylight in the north as there is closer to the Equator. So the further we get away from the Equator, the shorter the days become, the darker it becomes, and so people get more depressed.
Interviewer: And so, then it's true that sunlight actually makes you happy.
Dr. Hunziker: That's correct. People who live closer to the Equator have less chance of this type of depression.
Risk Factors of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Interviewer: Are there other risks then, being in Utah, besides not enough sun?
Dr. Hunziker: There are, and people who are at risk that live in Utah are people who are young, they're a lot more at risk. Women tend to be at a higher risk than men, at an almost ten times more likely to get this type of depression than men.
The other thing that occurs in Utah, that doesn't occur in other places, is our inversion. So time away from the sun, even on a bright day, we don't get that because the inversion's 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.
Interviewer: And especially since we have Daylight Savings here in America, you get out of work at 5:00 and it's already dark.
Dr. Hunziker: That's right.
Interviewer: And so you don't really ever . . .
Dr. Hunziker: That's right.
Interviewer: And then you wake up at, you know, 6:00, 7:00 and it's still dark, and so you never really see the sun.
Dr. Hunziker: That's correct, and it can't just be the light in your office that makes the difference, it has to be the same wavelength as the sun to make a difference, which is why people use light boxes because that does help with most people who have this type of seasonal disorder.
Dangers of Depression
Interviewer: So knowing that people in Utah are at higher risk for depression, tell me from a doctor's perspective exactly how dangerous that is.
Dr. Hunziker: Yeah. So depression can be extremely dangerous, and suicides rates, particularly in Utah, are quite high. And if depression of any type goes unchecked, it can lead to people thinking about ending their life, which is extremely important. So any time you're experiencing a depressed mood, it should be evaluated, at least by your primary care doctor to see if something else needs to be done.
Distinguishing Depression from Feeling 'Moody'
Interviewer: So with depression being so serious, does it often get confused for somebody just being moody, then, because people get moody and they get upset, but when does that become depression? When does it become dangerous?
Dr. Hunziker: The way you can tell is if this lasts every day for at least two weeks, where you're feeling so terrible that you don't want to get out of bed, where you feel like you have to sleep all of the time. You have absolutely no energy, or interest, or desire to do anything with anyone. You notice that you're eating a ton, particularly carbohydrates. With this population that gets seasonal affective disorder, carbohydrates tend to be the big thing that they do. And then, of course, if you start having any thoughts about hurting yourself at any time, that's when it really needs to be addressed.
So in summary, I think that for those of us living in Utah, we are at higher risk, so we need to pay attention to those signs of depression. Particularly women, particularly young people, particularly people who work in environments where they're not around sunlight need to pay attention to this. If you notice that you're having any changes in your mood, please seek help.
updated: December 16, 2022
originally published: December 16, 2015
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