What is Seasonal Depression?
Seasonal affective disorder is also known as SAD or seasonal depression. It is a type of mood disorder that affects people seasonally. During most of the year, a person with seasonal affective disorder has normal mental health. Once a year, at the same time of year, however, they experience depression. For most people with the seasonal affective disorder, this seasonal depression occurs in the winter. A minority of seasonal affective disorder sufferers will be affected in the summer.
The number of people affected by seasonal affective disorder varies with where people live. For instance, in Alaska, where winter is harsh, it affects 9.9% of people. In sunny Florida, on the other hand, only 1.4% of people suffer from seasonal affective disorder. Usually, the symptoms peak during the months of January and February. The onset typically occurs in the autumn.
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
People often think that seasonal affective disorder is just a case of the winter blues and not really serious. For those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder in the summer, it often doesn’t make sense to friends and family. How could someone be sad when it’s so beautiful and sunny outside?
Some researchers believe that seasonal affective disorder is a natural, biological reaction to the time of year. During the winter, there is less sunlight, colder temperatures, and for most animals, it is a time of scarcity in terms of food. Some say that the depressive mood would reduce appetite and food intake during a time when there wasn’t as much for people to eat in the past. There is a theory that hormonal changes result in less serotonin and results in a depressed mood.
Most people who are diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder report onset between the ages of 18 and 30-years-old. More women than men are affected by it. In fact, the disorder is a full four times higher in women. An estimated ten million Americans have seasonal affective disorder. There is a milder form of seasonal affective disorder that affects another 10 to 20% of Americans.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can be different in the summer versus the winter. Common symptoms of seasonal affective disorder in the winter include:
- Low energy levels
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of heaviness in your arms and legs
- Fatigue, wanting to sleep all the time
- Isolation, avoiding social settings
- Craving comfort foods, typically sweet and starchy foods
- Appetite changes
- Weight gain
- Feeling melancholy and sad
- Feeling hopeless and having thoughts of suicide
The typical symptoms of seasonal affective disorder that occurs in the summer are:
- Poor appetite
- Feelings of anxiety
- Weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are a number of different treatments available for seasonal affective disorder. One is the use of traditional antidepressant medications. Bupropion XL is a medication that is specifically used just for seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy is another treatment for seasonal affective disorder. You need to use a specific type of light therapy box that utilizes a 10,000 lux full-spectrum light which helps you produce more serotonin and regulate circadian rhythm. These light boxes can be rented or purchased. Know that health insurance companies often don’t cover them, though they have been found to be very effective in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder. Some doctors recommend that people with seasonal affective disorder get up and out the door early in the day to make the most of the limited light in the winter. It’s important to spend some time outdoors every day, even though it is cold and may be cloudy. Regular exercise can also help. Aim for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, and try to eat a healthy, balanced diet. You should make social plans, engaging in activities that you enjoy. Finally, talking to a licensed therapist is a good idea.