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Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Throughout the winter months, many men and women experience signs and symptoms of depression. During the good weather months of the spring and summer, they experience relief of these symptoms. Specific signs and symptoms may be an indicator or sign of Seasonal Affective Disorder, otherwise known as “SAD”. Seasonal Affective Disorder is just that, a mood disorder that is related to seasonal variations of light. It all has to do with the amount of light we are exposed to. SAD affects an estimated half million people each winter between the months of September and April. It peaks in December, January, and February. While almost everyone feels the “Winter Blues,” a milder form of SAD, Seasonal Affective Disorder may worsen symptoms for those with already diagnosed mood disorders, causing profound depression in some and medications may be required to alleviate these severe symptoms. Of all those who suffer from SAD, three out of four of them are women. Ages 18-30 are when the main onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms occur. SAD appears to happen in both the northern and southern hemisphere; however it’s very rare in individuals who live close to the equator. Again, because this is because SAD has to do with the amount of light we are exposed to. Because of this, the severity of SAD symptoms, are affected by their susceptibility to the disorder and her or his location geographically. A doctor may diagnose you with Seasonal Affective Disorder following three consecutive winters with these following symptoms, followed by complete remission of symptoms in the good weather months.

Symptoms

• Depression: defined as hopelessness, misery, despair, guilt and apathy (not caring).
• Changes in mood: simply extreme mood changes, with some people experiencing periods of highs or manias during the good weather months.
• Anxiety: an unexplained feeling of tension.
• Lethargy: that feeling of tiredness and the struggle to carry out your normal routine.
• Sleeping problems: the wanting to oversleep and, the task of staying awake and sometimes early wakening in the night or disturbed sleep.
• Social problems: feeling irritable and no desire to have social contact.
• Sexual problems: decreased libido and a diminished interest in physical contact.
• Overeating: the craving for sweet and starchy foods that results in gaining weight.

Causes

• As sunshine has directed the seasonal habits of animals, such as their breeding and hibernation cycles, Seasonal Affective Disorder may also have an effect on humans with its seasonal light shifts. Throughout the year, when the seasons change, there’s also a change in our “internal clocks” and this is directly related to changes in sunlight patterns. This can result in our biological clocks being out of sync with our daily routines or schedules.
• Melatonin, secreted by the pineal gland in the brain, is a sleep-related hormone that has been linked to Seasonal Affective Disorder. Melatonin may cause symptoms of depression because it’s produced at increased levels when the days are shorter and we experience more darkness.

Treatments for Seasonal Affective Disorder

• Bright light therapy, also known as phototherapy, has been shown to decrease the brain’s melatonin secretion. Although, there is no proven research linking this therapy to an antidepressant effect, phototherapy has shown successful outcomes in up to 85 percent effectiveness of currently diagnosed SAD patients. These patients receive light ten times the intensity of everyday domestic lighting for up to four hours per day and may resume daily activities while undergoing light therapy. The equipment used most often is a bank of white florescent lights placed together as a group on a metal reflector with a plastic screen and shield.
• For most of us with less severe symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, simply being outdoors more often during the daylight hours or arranging your workplace or home to let in more sunlight will certainly help. One study revealed that a one hour walk in winter sunlight was as beneficial as two and a half hours of artificial light therapy. So, get outside and walk and take off those sunglasses when you’re driving to absorb some light into your eyes!
• If artificial light phototherapy is not effective, an antidepressant medication may help reduce or eliminate SAD symptoms. Consult and discuss all your symptoms and concerns with your mental health professional