Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a sub-type of depression only symptomatic during certain months of the year. SAD is primarily attributed to the winter months; however, in rare cases can have an impact during the summer months as well. SAD can affect anyone but among those with a greater chance of experiencing it are women and people with a family history of depression. It’s most common in people between the ages 15 and 55 as the chances of experiencing the disorder decrease with age. Also, people living far from the equator are at a higher risk due to the decreased number of daylight hours in the winter.
- Though the cause is unknown, experts believe SAD is directly related to a lack of sunlight which disrupts sleep patterns and creates serotonin deficiencies in the brain. Symptoms for SAD include: decrease in energy, frequent thoughts of death or suicide, irritability/agitation, fluctuations in weight, loss of interest in activities normally enjoyed, etc. The major symptomatic differences between winter SAD and summer SAD are: oversleeping and overeating in the winter as opposed to under eating and weight loss in the summer.
- Light therapy, medication (antidepressants) and psychotherapy are the most common treatment methods. Despite limited research, light therapy remains the most widely used clinical method of treating SAD and experts believe it resets your biological clock. The process uses a special type of indoor light bulb that mimics sunlight therefore correcting the serotonin (the chemical in the brain associated with mood) deficiency. Results are usually seen after a few days, sometimes taking up to two weeks.
- Anti-depressant medication can be used in addition to or alongside light therapy and is recommended for people with severe depression. Though not approved by the FDA, people have also reported positive results using the over the counter supplements St John’s Wart, SAMe, and Melatonin.
- Seasonal Affective Disorder often goes undiagnosed for a lifetime due to people dismissing it as the “winter blues”. Left untreated, SAD can fester and grow into a life-threatening substance abuse problem due to self-medicating. Implement lifestyle changes like more exercise and more outdoor activities. If you or someone you know is suicidal, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.
Recover Health, a regional full-service home health care provider, works in collaboration with health care providers by providing a variety of home health care services to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives and healthcare journey.