What Everyone Should Know About Seasonal Depression
As the days start to get shorter and a chill fills the air, many people sing about yuletide joy and the most wonderful time of the year. However, millions of people dread the winter season because it brings them depressed mood, low energy, and other symptoms of depression.
These people are not simply missing the summer sun, but instead suffer from a mental health condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Spreading awareness about this relatively common disorder may help people find the professional help they need to cope with SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a disorder in which people experience depression during specific times of the year. Most patients who have SAD experience symptoms during the winter months. However, some people have summer/spring SAD. During episodes of SAD, people may experience signs such as:
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
- Significant fluctuations in weight
- Sudden loss of interest in beloved activities
- Low, sad mood
- Little energy
- Feeling worthless
- Thoughts of harming oneself or suicide
If you or someone you love experiences thoughts of self-harm or suicide, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, text the crisis line, or nearest emergency room can help.
Some people call this disorder the winter blues or seasonal depression. While its symptoms are much the same as other types of depression, the trigger is different. For people with SAD, the signs lift when the season changes. 10 million Americans experience this condition each year.
Possible Risk Factors and Causes of SAD
Mental illnesses, including SAD, do not have just one specific cause. However, experts believe that the lack of sunshine may contribute to the development of fall/winter SAD. As the days grow shorter, people get less sunlight which may cause a lack of melatonin, too little serotonin, and a disturbance in the circadian rhythm.
People may have a higher risk of developing SAD if they have a family history of the disorder. Furthermore, people who live with major depression or bipolar disorder are at an increased risk. Finally, living far away from the equator can increase a person’s risk.
SAD Treatment Options
If you live with SAD, you do not need to suffer through each of your episodes without help. Several effective treatments can help you feel much better. The first line of treatment against SAD is typically light therapy, which can counteract many of the problems that the lack of sunshine causes.
When possible, people with SAD should try to get out into the sunshine as often as possible. However, life doesn’t always allow for leisure time outside. In this case, patients can use artificial lights that are specifically designed for SAD treatment.
In some cases, patients also benefit from therapy and/or medication. The most common counseling approach is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in which patients learn new coping techniques and change their behavioral patterns. Medications are typically used in the most severe cases.