As the seasons change and our days get shorter, many people continue on with their lives, simply adjusting to fewer hours of daylight. In some cases, a person may not have such an easy experience. With fewer hours of light during the day, some people may be facing a change in their moods. This is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or seasonal depression. SAD is a type of depression that is related to the changes in the seasons, normally causing depressive symptoms that start in the fall and continuing throughout the winter months. In some rare cases, SAD may occur in the spring and summer months. In most cases these symptoms will start off as mild but will become more severe as the season progresses, which highlights the need for someone to get proper treatment to combat the issue so it doesn’t put a halt on their day to day life.
Causes and Symptoms
Seasonal Affective Disorder will come and go according to the seasons, starting and ending around the same time each year. The specific cause of SAD is still unknown though it may be influenced by a person’s biological clock, their serotonin levels, their melatonin levels or other factors such as gender, age, family history etc.
Since SAD is a subtype of major depressive disorder it will exhibit common depressive symptoms which come and go according to the seasons. This will include common symptoms such as feeling depressed most of every day, feeling hopeless or worthless, feeling fatigued, experiencing changes in appetite and weight, losing interest in previously enjoyable activities or having trouble with their sleeping patterns. Extreme symptoms to watch for may include suicidal thoughts, social withdrawal, problems at work or at school or substance abuse. These symptoms will appear in Seasonal Affective Disorder though they will vary between SAD that is triggered by winter or summer months:
Fall and Winter SAD
- Fatigue and low energy
- An inability to get along with others
- Hypersensitivity to rejection
- A heavy feeling in the arms and/or legs
- Changes in appetite and weight gain
Spring and Summer SAD
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Agitation or anxiety
Treating Seasonal Affective Disorder
Diagnosing a finding proper treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder is important and can prevent further complications for the person dealing with the disorder. One should always to talk to their doctor about whether or not they have SAD, disclosing all symptoms and any other factors that may be causing their emotional and mental distress. Seasonal Affective Disorder tends to be hard to diagnose because it is so similar to other mood disorders. It can be identified if, for the past two years, the patient has experienced depression that starts and ends during a specific season each year and has had no depressive episodes in any other seasons.
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder will normally include medication, phototherapy, psychotherapy or a combination of these options. Medication will normally include antidepressants prescribed by your doctor. When beginning to use a medication, you should monitor your side effects and communicate with your doctor on a regular basis.
The two types of therapies that are used for SAD work on both the physical and mental aspects of the mental illness. Phototherapy or light therapy provides a patient with light that mimics outdoor light and causes changes in brain chemicals linked to mood. This therapy method works well with fall and winter SAD and normally works within a few days to two weeks with a few side effects and helps to relieve symptoms. Psychotherapy deals with the mental and emotional side of SAD, identifying negative emotions and thoughts. In doing so, psychotherapy helps the patient change these negative patterns while also teaching them healthy ways to deal with SAD and how to manage stress.
If a person with Seasonal Affective Disorder has turned to substance abuse or exhibiting extreme symptoms such as suicidal ideation, it may be a good idea to look into a treatment program. This can help them overcome their pattern of substance abuse and learn how to properly deal with this issue.