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Sunlight could help people with seasonal affective disorder

Sarah Joy

Central and northern New York has seen some bright and sunny days this week. But typical spring weather in the region tends to be more cloudy and rainy, which can affect people's mental health.

Seasonal affective disorder, a type of depression related to the changes in the seasons, is connected to fewer hours of daylight and is common among people who live further from the equator.

Ruth Larson, director of counseling services at SUNY ESF, said about 4.7% of New Yorkers are affected with seasonal depression.

"Syracuse here we're known for cloudy winters, overcast skies," Larson said. "We don't get as much serotonin, melatonin and it just really starts affecting our body. It affects our body. It affects our mood."

Things could lighten up. Larson said opening your curtains and blinds to let sunlight in and going outside on days with sunny skies can help combat the problem.

Take it from plants. Terry Ettinger, greenhouse manager at SUNY-ESF, said many plants evolved to want 12 hours of sunlight a day, but during the winter months many receive less than 9 hours a day.

"Many homeowners will notice their indoor plants are dropping leaves during the winter months," Ettinger said. "The leaves are turning yellow and the plants just don't look happy. So, you could say that plants are suffering that seasonal disorder just like humans."

If your plant is looking rough, Ettinger says avoid overwatering as when plants drop leaves they are using less energy and need less water. But try to provide whatever light you can.

"Light is what drives photosynthesis.," Ettinger said. "The more light you provide. the more photosynthesis that can occur."

Ettinger says plants start to look better as the days warm up and the sun shines longer - typically around May. Larson says the same can be true for people suffering from seasonal depression and she suggests talking to someone like a counselor about your feelings.

"I don't want people to suffer in silence," Larson said. "I want everybody to know about this in Syracuse, because it is a really, really, very real thing here."

Seasonal affective disorder can occur in the spring and summer months although it is less common.

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.