Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)-- or “seasonal depression” as many people call it, is a misunderstood depressive disorder that affects around 5% of adults in the United States. People may often equate SAD with “winter blues”, however it is much more. Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can mirror major depression symptoms, usually beginning to develop in the fall/winter months. These symptoms can include feelings of sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, changes in appetite and sleep, lethargy, feelings of worthlessness, difficulty thinking and concentrating, and thoughts of death or suicide.
Someone who has seasonal affective disorder may start noticing their energy levels decreasing and feel sad more often than they used to when fall starts. They may crave carb-heavy foods, lose interest in doing things they used to enjoy (such as painting or other hobbies). The person may find themselves isolating from friends and family and may struggle to get out of bed in the morning. These classic symptoms of depression become characteristic of seasonal affective disorder when they are consistently sparked by the onset of the fall/winter months.
Seasonal affective disorder has been linked to a chemical imbalance in the brain that is brought on by the decreasing daylight hours as fall/winter approaches. When the seasons change, our internal clock, or circadian rhythm, gets a little out of whack, which drifts people away from their typical daily activities. People who live far away from the equator and people who live in cloudy regions are more at risk to developing seasonal affective disorder.
So what can we do? There are a variety of treatments available for those who think they are suffering from seasonal affective disorder. One of the most common treatments for SAD is light therapy. Typically, in the morning you are exposed to a seasonal affective disorder lamp. Typically, doctors recommend using a 10,00 lux lamp (with UV blockage) for at least 20 minutes in the mornings. Treatment is usually continued daily throughout the winter, as it is common for SAD symptoms to return once stopping light therapy. In addition, antidepressants and/or talk therapy have been shown to help decrease seasonal depression symptoms. You might want to get your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor, roughly 42% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient. Vitamin D deficiency plays a large role in depressive symptoms as well. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and sunlight, and staying connected to your community can help your general health and wellness, which helps protect against developing severe SAD symptoms. If you think, or know, you are suffering from seasonal affective disorder, you can always give us a call to take the first step in getting help.