Seasonal Affective Disorder

Providing expert treatment for Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Depression can manifest in many ways. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a form of depression that occurs in individuals during a specific season every year. Moreover, most individuals diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder or SAD experience the condition during the fall-winter months. However, some affected individuals may experience it in the spring-summer period as well.

Who is prone to developing the condition?

Some groups of people may be more at risk of experiencing seasonal affective disorder than others. They include:

  • Women and young adults: Typically, SAD is diagnosed in young adults and women more than older adults and men. The reason for this is unknown.
  • Family history: If someone in your family has a history of depression, you may be more at risk of developing SAD.
  • Distance from the equator: Places located away from the equator (either too far north or too far south) tend to experience less sunlight than the areas in and around the equatorial belt. Moreover, people living in these areas may experience disruptions in their sleep cycles, leading to symptoms of depression.

Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms associated with the condition include:

  • Long periods of depression throughout the day, almost every day
  • Low energy
  • Losing motivation to pursue activities of interest
  • Sleep irregularities
  • Irritability
  • Sluggishness
  • Weight and/or appetite changes
  • Concentration issues
  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, and worthlessness
  • Negative and/or suicidal thoughts

Moreover, individuals who experience SAD during the fall-winter period may have the following symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Feeling tired throughout the day
  • Cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods
  • Oversleeping
  • Weight gain

Those who experience SAD during the spring-summer months may have the following symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Poor appetite

SAD can occur in people diagnosed with bipolar disorder as well, with symptoms typically manifesting in the form of hypomania (mania with less intensity) or full-blown mania during the summer months. Moreover, during the winters, the feelings of mania may give way to symptoms of depression.

When to Consult a Provider for Seasonal Depression

Many people mistake depression for sadness, and this misconception often prevents them from seeking help from experts in time. Moreover, sadness is characterized by a low mood that shouldn’t last more than a few hours. However, depression involves experiencing low mood for days and weeks. Seasonal affective disorder symptoms tend to worsen as time passes.

Here are three of the most telltale signs of clinical depression. If you experience these, you need to consult a mental health professional as soon as possible.

  • Losing interest in activities:

  • All of us like pursuing certain activities out of passion and enjoyment. However, depression makes it very difficult to pursue those activities with the same vigor that we would in normal circumstances. If you’ve lost interest in an activity you previously enjoyed and haven’t felt like doing it for several consecutive days, it generally indicates depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts:

  • Negative thoughts and emotions are common in people who experience depression. Moreover, the constant negative thinking can lead depressed people to believe that their lives and respective existences are worthless. Over time, feelings of guilt and hopelessness may also hijack the brain, resulting in suicidal thoughts. If you do experience such thoughts and start contemplating them daily, you shouldn’t waste any time in seeking help.
  • Drinking alcohol to ease symptoms:

  • Alcohol is a depressant. In the short-term, it can lower symptoms of stress and anxiety. People suffering from depression often turn to alcohol to cope with their symptoms. However, if you become dependent on it to feel better, it may lead to alcohol dependence and abuse, which may be harmful to both your mental and physical health in the long run. If you’ve been consuming alcohol regularly for dealing with your SAD symptoms, seek help immediately.

Potential long-term complications

SAD tends to start with mild symptoms. However, if the symptoms are left unchecked, they may become more severe and result in complications such as:

  • Problems at school or work
  • Eating disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Social withdrawal

How We Can Help

Treatment

Early diagnosis of the condition can be incredibly helpful in treating it. Experts may conduct one or more of the following tests to determine the presence of SAD and its severity:

  • Physical examination
  • Psychological evaluation
  • Lab tests
  • SAD criteria-related evaluation based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), an American Psychiatric Association publication.

The three most common forms of treatment to manage the condition include:

  • Medications: Antidepressants such as bupropion may be prescribed to prevent severe depressive episodes.

  • Psychotherapy: Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy may help identify the triggers of depressive episodes and how to cope with those triggers.
  • Light therapy: As SAD is often reported in individuals residing in places with low levels of sunlight, light therapy or phototherapy may be effective in maintaining the balance of serotonin and melatonin.

Seasonal affective disorder is usually self-diagnosable. It is treatable. Hence, do not hesitate to seek the help of a medical professional if you think you have the condition.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

The causes of seasonal affective disorder are still unknown. According to scientists, the condition may be caused by one or more of the following:

  • Decreased production of serotonin during fall-winter months

  • Serotonin is a chemical that is produced in the brain. Its function is to regulate mood. The greater the serotonin production, the more an individual feels happy and content. However, experts reckon that the reduced sunlight during the fall-winter period may interfere with the brain’s serotonin-producing capabilities, significantly decreasing the production of the chemical. As a result, individuals may experience extended bouts of depression.
  • Disruptions in your circadian rhythm

  • Your circadian rhythm refers to your biological clock. Moreover, during the fall-winter months, the decreased levels of sunlight may cause certain changes in your body that your biological clock may fail to adapt to. Moreover, disrupted circadian rhythms may give rise to mild symptoms of depression, which may manifest over time to become more serious.
  • Change in melatonin production:

  • The body’s pineal gland is responsible for producing the hormone known as melatonin. It plays a significant role in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle. During the transition from the fall to the winter months, the natural balance of the hormone may be disrupted, which may lower mood, resulting in depression.