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winter depression, seasonal affective disorder

A bicyclist rides through a snowstorm in the Chinatown neighborhood of New York, Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014. Snow and sleet are falling on the East Coast, from North Carolina to New England, a day after sleet, snow and ice bombarded the Southeast. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

The onslaught of brutal weather battering certain parts of the nation over the past few weeks is beginning to take a toll on the health and well-being of some residents living through it, CBS Atlanta reports.

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From Texas to the Carolinas to Atlanta, the roads were paved with ice and scores were left without power as a wintry mix hit Wednesday. The Mid-Atlantic region was also expected to be socked by the storm and up to a foot of snow could fall in some areas, the report says.

The harsh winter storms may be causing some people to develop what is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a form of depression or mental illness that develops during the winter months and is caused by a combination of cold temperatures, precipitation, and shorter days.

Dr. Norman Rosenthal, the clinical psychiatrist who first described the condition and writes about it in the book, “Winter Blues,” told CBS Atlanta that he has “seen a lot of [seasonal affective disorder] this season.”

“There has been a tremendous amount of it around, even in people who think they’ve got it under control,” he told CBS.

Symptoms include a change in appetite, especially cravings for sweet or starchy foods; weight gain; a drop in energy level; fatigue; and a tendency to oversleep, according to a report at the American Academy of Family Physicians.

About 4 to 6 percent of people may have winter depression, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians. Another 10 to 20 percent may have mild SAD. SAD is four times more common in women than in men. Although some children and teenagers get SAD, it usually doesn’t start in people younger than age 20.

It is unclear just how many African Americans suffer from winter depression because many do not seek mental health treatment in the first place. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says that only about 30 percent of African Americans who have been diagnosed with a mental illness seek counseling and only one in three who need psychiatric care receive it.

Another mental health expert, Laura Miller, a licensed clinical social worker in New York, told CBS that seasonal changes can take a toll person’s mental health.

“I have noticed that a number of my patients have been significantly impacted by the season changes and specifically the increase in the number of hours of darkness. This seems to happen every year around the time when fall flows in to winter,” she told CBS.

But Miller also told CBS “that the cases she has seen in her practice have not been noticeably more severe than they have in other years, but added that ‘it is hard to tell since patients usually have other factors that contribute to mood shifts, even if those other factors are not the primary roots or triggers.’”

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