Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.)
Seasonal affective disorder, or S.A.D, is a mood disorder that happens around the same time each year. For those of us in the United States, we most frequently see it in people mid-late fall and through the winter months. S.A.D has been linked to a biochemical imbalance in the brain prompted by both shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in winter, especially in areas further from the equator. While it is less common, S.A.D. can present in the summer months for some people as well. This is the time when daylight savings occurs, and it starts to not only get cooler out, but the sun sets earlier leaving us in darkness often before we finish out our workdays.
S.A.D is more than just a case of the “winter blues.” The symptoms can be both distressing and overwhelming and can interfere with a persons daily functioning. The good news is, it can be treated. Research states that roughly 5% of adults in the United States experience seasonal affective disorder and it typically lasts about 40% of the year. While it can present in both genders, it is more common in women then men.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms can vary for people struggling with seasonal affective disorder, however might include things such as depression or lower mood, fatigue, feelings of hopelessness or helplessness, loss or lack of motivation, feeling sad, loss of or lack of interest in activities that once brought on pleasure. It may also include a change in appitite, for example craving more carbohydrates. It can also disrupt our sleep, loss of sleep or over sleeping, often connected to a decrease in mood. The lack of sleep often impacts a persons energy and causes increased fatigue. One might also find themselves struggling to sit still, more fidgety than normal, which may or may not be noticeable for others. It might also cause one to struggle with focus, concentration, or making decisions. In some causes self-harm or thoughts of death or suicide. While S.A.D can present at any age, it's most typical to start in those between the ages of 18 and 30. In the Diagnostic Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), this disorder is identified as a type of depression – Major Depressive Disorder with Seasonal Pattern.
The good new is that it is treatable. Seasonal affective disorder can be treated by things such as light therapy, medication, such as antidepressants (SSRI's), talk therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, or a combination of these. Typically S.A.D. will improve on it's own, however can improve at a quicker pace with some form of treatment.
If you feel like you may be struggling with seasonal affective disorder it is recommended to seek help from a trained medical professional and/or mental health provider. With the right treatment, S.A.D is a manageable condition. If you feel your depression is severe or if you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call your medical provider or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 800-273-TALK (8255).