PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Winters in western Pennsylvania sure can cast a cloud on your happiness. However, those who may think they have come down with a case of the winter blues could actually be dealing with something much more serious.

“Western Pennsylvania is known for two things: producing linebackers and one of the highest prevalence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in the entire country,” said UPMC psychiatrist Dr. Lawson Bernstein in a 30-minute live stream online Friday.

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According to Bernstein, more than half a million people are diagnosed with seasonal depression each year, a brain disorder with debilitating symptoms.

Symptoms include:

  • Tiredness and decreased activity level
  • Crying spells and mood swings
  • Grouchiness
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Body aches
  • Cravings for carbohydrates and/or overeating
  • Loss of interest in doing routine things

“You can see how this replicates the types of biological changes we would see in animals that hibernate. Obviously, we don’t hibernate,” said Dr. Bernstein about the symptoms.

SAD can lead to decreased workdays, serious medical issues and more. Treatments include medication, counseling or light using an artificial lightbox.

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“The therapy begins with daily sessions,10-15 minutes, which are gradually increased to 30-90 minutes every day during the winter months. This needs to be done regularly and typically at the beginning of the day,” said Bernstein.

And bottom line: going bottoms up with the booze actually has the tendency to increase depression, the doctor said.

“This depletes the brain of serotonin over time. That’s a necessary neurotransmitter to treat depression,” said Bernstein.

While uncommon, you may also experience symptoms during the summer including insomnia and too much energy.

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To read more about the impact loss of light can have on your mental health, check out this article.