When the temperatures cool and the days get shorter, it’s not uncommon to feel a bit of the “winter blues,” but for some people, the onset of winter brings a more serious form of depression: a condition is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
People afflicted with SAD are likely to experience symptoms of the disorder from the beginning of fall until the weather warms up in the spring. If you think you might be struggling with SAD, effective treatments are available to help you keep your mood stable all year long.
What is SAD?
SAD is a mood disorder that is estimated to affect over a half-million Americans. Three out of four people afflicted with SAD are women, and most sufferers experience the onset of the condition between the ages of 18 and 30. Researchers aren’t certain exactly what causes SAD, but it’s believed to be related to variations in natural sunlight.
A lack of sunlight can disturb a person’s “biological clock,” which controls the body’s sleep patterns and other circadian rhythms; it can also affect levels of serotonin, an important brain chemical that controls mood. Like other forms of clinical depression, SAD can have a serious impact on a person’s life and make it difficult for them to perform their daily activities.
Understanding the Symptoms
A person can be diagnosed with SAD if they have experienced three consecutive winters with the following symptoms, with a remission of these symptoms during spring and summer:
- Feeling worthless or hopeless
- Feeling depressed every day
- Lack of energy
- Loss of interest in activities
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Social problems
- Loss of libido
There’s no need for SAD sufferers to silently endure their symptoms or chalk them up to a minor case of the blues. Phototherapy, or light therapy, is an effective treatment for the condition. During a phototherapy session, you’re exposed to bright light from a special therapy box. This light resembles natural outdoor light and can impact brain chemicals that affect your mood.
Some people afflicted with more severe cases of SAD benefit from antidepressant medications; psychotherapy is another treatment option that can help you learn healthy ways to cope with SAD. Be sure to let your doctor know if you have bipolar disorder along with SAD: Both phototherapy and antidepressants can increase the risk of a manic episode.
It’s not unusual to feel a bit gloomy with the arrival of colder weather and shorter days, but seasonal affective disorder is more than a typical winter funk. The effects of SAD can be devastating, but there’s no need to suffer with this disorder. If you’re struggling with depression during certain times of the year, speak to a doctor or mental health professional. Nearly every person afflicted with SAD can be helped with various treatments.