Most people who suffer from depression generally experience persistent sorrow and may also experience irritability, helplessness, and hopelessness. However, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at a specific time of the year, usually during the fall and winter months when there is less sunlight. It is sometimes referred to as "winter depression."
SAD is believed to be related to the changes in light exposure that occur with the changing seasons. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that about 5% of Americans suffer from SAD about 40% of the year.
If you are struggling with SAD, you are not alone. It's normal to feel tired, and depressed, have trouble focusing, and have your sleep schedule thrown off throughout the winter. For a few, this shift in mood is transient and readily controlled with little lifestyle adjustments. However, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), can develop into severe depression in certain people when symptoms impair daily functioning.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Increased sleep and daytime drowsiness
Loss of interest and pleasure in activities formerly enjoyed.
Social withdrawal and increased sensitivity to rejection
Irritability and anxiety
Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
Fatigue, or low energy level
Decreased sex drive
Decreased ability to focus or concentrate.
Trouble thinking clearly.
Increased appetite, especially for sweets and carbohydrates
Physical problems, such as headaches
Risk Factors: Factors that may increase the risk of developing SAD include living at higher latitudes where there is less sunlight during the winter, having a family history of SAD or other forms of depression, and being female (as women are more commonly affected than men).
Treatment: Treatment for SAD often involves light therapy (phototherapy), where individuals are exposed to a bright light that simulates natural sunlight. Other treatment options may include psychotherapy, medication (such as antidepressants), and lifestyle changes, such as increasing exposure to natural light, regular exercise, and maintaining a healthy sleep schedule.
Prevention: Taking steps to manage stress, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy diet, and ensuring exposure to natural light, especially in the morning, can be beneficial in preventing or managing symptoms of SAD.
Even though the weather and length of daylight are beyond your control in the winter, you can take good care of yourself to feel better. These techniques will help you get over your wintertime depression.
If you suspect that you or someone you know may be experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder, it's important to seek professional help. A healthcare provider or mental health professional can conduct an evaluation, provide a diagnosis, and recommend appropriate treatment options.