ST. LOUIS – For many, winter time means holidays, time with family and friends, but for some it brings on the winter blues.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression related to changes in the seasons. It can happen even in the summer but most people suffer from this during the winter months.

“Alaska has the highest suicide rate in the country,” says Dr. Erick Messias, Saint Louis University School of Medicine.

But they are not alone. Seasonal affective disorder hurts mental health right here in our area.

It’s common to think it’s the colder temperatures that causes one to feel SAD, but it’s actually less sunlight that affects our moods. We won’t see more daylight until after the winter solstice on Dec. 21.

“It’s important for people to know that it correlates to how severe the winter is,” Messias says.

Symptoms of SAD include low energy, losing interest in activities you once enjoyed, sleeping too much, overeating, and carb cravings that can lead to weight gain.

You might experience trouble concentrating and feeling hopeless or worthless. Patients with the most extreme cases have had thoughts of suicide.

“The more northern you are…the higher your risk,” Messias says. “So you’re going to see much more seasonal affective disorder in the winter time in Alaska, north Dakota, Montana, Wisconsin, than in Florida or Hawaii or Texas.”

If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder, specialists say you can fight back. Things like light therapy, eating healthier, and getting fresh air are excellent ways to treat those symptoms. As always, you should speak with your primary care doctor if your symptoms worsen or you develop suicidal ideation.

But what can you do to help a friend or loved one batting SAD right now?

“We’re very lucky in St. Louis to have amazing parks,” Messias says. “We have the amazing botanical garden, a place to get a lot of light, a lot of positive color. If you want to be a good friend, get them out of the house.”