Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Longing for the Clouds to Lift Pittsburgh's Lack of Sunlight during the Winter Months Can Lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Longing for the Clouds to Lift Pittsburgh's Lack of Sunlight during the Winter Months Can Lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder

Article excerpt

Spring fashions are popping up in stores, and television advertisements are featuring snowy landscapes that transform into beaches in a flash.

And for once, it doesn't seem as though everyone is rushing the season.

This has been a particularly mild winter, yet many residents of Western Pennsylvania are waiting for what feels like an extended fall to turn into full-blown spring.

Even though the temperatures have been above average this winter, Pittsburgh still has seen a lot of gray days, which can contribute to everything from general malaise to seasonal affective disorder.

In January and February, the region averages about 28 days per month with more than 50 percent cloud cover, and this year is no different: January had 27 such days, and February, too, has seen its share of gray skies.

And it's those soupy, dark, dreary days that can provoke depression.

Seasonal affective disorder is "an exacerbation of depressive symptoms that occur in the winter," according to Amanda M. Rush, a psychiatrist with Psychiatric Care Systems of McMurray who works at Monongahela Valley Hospital.

The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, are similar to those of typical depression -- fatigue, lack of energy, lack of motivation, increased appetite and lethargy.

The best course of treatment, according to Dr. Rush, is light.

"In other places, it's easy enough -- you just go outside," she said. "But in the Pittsburgh area, there's not a plethora of sunlight in the winter."

She said light box therapy, or phototherapy, is often prescribed for people diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, either alone or in conjunction with antidepressants or vitamin D supplements.

Despite this winter's mild temperatures, the grayness is still all too prevalent on February days in Pittsburgh. Dr. Rush said that seasonal affective disorder is very common in Alaska; Anchorage, for example, gets only about 5.5 hours of daylight in December. But in Denver, where it can get very cold, SAD is less prevalent because of Colorado's clear skies.

Dr. Rush said even a long weekend to somewhere sunny could help with SAD symptoms.

"A big part of the reason people develop seasonal affective disorder is a lack of sunlight," she said. "Any sun exposure in the winter is better than none."

Soak up the sun

Phil Petrulli, a travel agent and owner of Holiday Travel International in North Huntingdon, said winter is a good time to vacation, but Pittsburghers usually stick around. Instead of going on vacation during the winter, most plan their dream vacations for summer. He said he's always busy in January booking summer trips.

"We just have an unusual market," he said. "People are dreaming about their vacations in the winter and making the arrangements."

Mr. Petrulli, who has been planning vacations for 46 years, said that a bus trip to seven national parks in seven states he advertised in December sold out in less than 30 days -- but travelers won't embark on the trip until April. …

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