Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), sometimes known as seasonal depression, is a common condition that usually impacts people in the fall and winter months (though some people do struggle with it more in warmer weather). The more mild version of the condition is often referred to as the winter blues.
Depression of a Different Type
There are several different types of depression, but what makes SAD unique is that it only occurs for part of the year but generally comes back every year at around the same time. In spite of the short duration of SAD, it can be very intense and even life-threatening in certain cases.
Like other forms of depression, SAD has symptoms that generally signal a decline in mood and functioning. Suicidal thoughts may or may not be present. The Mayo Clinic lists the following as symptoms of SAD:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in preferred activities
- Decreased energy
- Changes in appetite, sleep and/or weight
- Difficulty focusing
Causes of Seasonal Depression
According to the Mayo Clinic, a number of factors are thought to contribute to SAD:
- Changes in a person’s internal clock, brought on by the different lighting conditions of the season in which they struggle
- A drop in serotonin, one of our brain’s natural “feel good” chemicals
- A change in melatonin, another of our brain’s neurotransmitters that regulates how we feel
Risk Factors of Seasonal Depression
While we all experience the changes of the seasons, not everyone experiences symptoms of SAD. Some factors might make certain people more susceptible to this condition, according to The National Institute on Mental Health:
- Being over age 20
- Being female
- Having some other form of depression (especially bipolar type 2)
- Having another mental health condition
- Living further from the equator
- Family history of SAD or other mental health diagnoses
SAD Prevention & Self-Care
In order to prevent and manage symptoms of SAD, the American Psychological Association recommends taking the following steps:
- Get as much daylight as possible by opening blinds, sitting near a window, going for walks or even taking up an outdoor winter sport.
- Eat healthy meals to ensure your body is getting the vitamins and nutrients it needs.
- Spend time with loved ones. This will increase the body’s production of feel-good chemicals and fight off loneliness.
- Seek professional help. Talk to your family doctor, therapist, or medication manager about how you are feeling.
- Avoid alcohol and other substances. These can make SAD worse and be dangerous to mix with medications used to treat SAD.
- Have reasonable expectations – not just for your own ability to accomplish things, but also for the speed at which your mood will improve overall. It takes time to recover from any form of depression.
Treatment Options for Seasonal Depression
SAD can be treated in several different ways:
- Light therapy – this treatment involves sitting in front of a very bright light box for 30-45 minutes per day to simulate the conditions of a sunny day.
- Talk therapy – cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most recommended form of talk therapy for treating SAD. This type of therapy assists clients in finding new ways of thinking about things and developing problem-solving strategies.
- Antidepressant medication – some of the medications most frequently prescribed to treat SAD are fluoxetine, citalopram, sertraline, paroxetine, and escitalopram, which are antidepressants designed to help address decreased serotonin levels.
- Vitamin D – because some people with SAD also have Vitamin D deficiencies, taking a Vitamin D supplement may be helpful in addressing issues with SAD. Research is still incomplete on this treatment.
For Concerned Loved Ones
Friends and family members may be concerned that someone they care about is experiencing SAD. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, it is important for loved ones to:
- Remember and emphasize that depression is not a sign of weakness or a moral failing.
- Recognize that depression cannot be willed or wished away.
- Understand that depression can last days, weeks, months or even years but that most people do respond to treatment, often within just a few weeks.
According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of SAD that might be noticeable by outside observers include:
- Social withdrawal
- Troubles at work or school
- Increased substance use
- Heightened problems with other mental health conditions
- Suicidal thoughts or behavior
Let Us Help You
If you or someone you know is showing signs of SAD, it is important to open the door to communication and get support from a medical or mental health professional. While SAD is only temporary and generally goes away after a few months, the duration while a person is suffering can sometimes be a matter of life or death. Even in milder cases, a person’s quality of life can be greatly improved with professional support.
Are you or a loved one looking for an inpatient depression treatment in West Virginia? For more information about Highland Hospital
and the services we offer, please call and speak with someone today at (800) 250-3806
. Highland can help.