Seasonal Affective Disorder, as the name suggests, is a type of major depressive disorder that occurs seasonally. A common phrase which many of us have heard, the ‘winter blues,’ is another name for this disorder.
The condition gets this curious name from the fact that SAD often occurs during the winter season. An individual with SAD will go through major depressive episodes during the winter season (or any other season), every time the season comes.
In the case of the winter blues, the depressive phase starts sometime during the fall or winter and remits during spring. The less common type of SAD occurs during the summer, where the depressive period starts during late spring or early summer and remits during the winter.
Many researchers think that SAD may be related to the amount of sunlight that a person receives.
How Can You Diagnose Someone with SAD?
A patient can be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder on two principal grounds:
- The patient has to experience major depressive phases, which coincide with some specific season for at least two years.
- The patient has to experience seasonal depression much more frequently as compared to non-seasonal depression.
Who Is Most at Risk for SAD?
According to research and studies conducted by NIMH, women are four times more likely to develop or be diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder. Those individuals between the ages of 20 and 30 are also the most prone to developing this condition.
Those with a family history of SAD are also more at risk of developing it- even if someone in the family had, at one point, been diagnosed with any major depressive disorder, it is more likely for the individual to develop SAD.
Substance abuse or alcohol abuse can also be seen to have a link with this disorder. However, whether alcohol abuse causes SAD or whether the symptoms are exaggerated by alcohol is yet to be precise.
Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
While there are a variety of symptoms related to this disorder, an individual with it may or may not experience all of the symptoms. An individual can experience only a handful of the signs at a time.
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It is best to get a proper diagnosis by a professional and not to self diagnose in this matter. Here are some of the symptoms of SAD:
- Hopelessness, loneliness, and feelings of overwhelming sadness
- Loss of appetite or a change in taste (common feature: having an excessive craving for sweet or starchy food items)
- Difficulty concentrating or focusing on anything
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Weight gain
- Irritability and mood swings
- Distancing oneself from the social interaction of any kind
- Fluctuations or drop in energy levels
- Increased sensitivity to social rejection
- Thoughts of suicide
- Increased need or want of sleep- hypersomnia
However, it should be noted that summer SAD and the ‘winter blues’ have different, sometimes even opposite symptoms.
- Low energy, fatigue, and tiredness
- Weight gain
- Changes in appetite along with an excessive craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Summer and Spring SAD:
- Insomnia (trouble sleeping)
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Anxiety, mood swings, and agitation
The most exciting thing to note about Seasonal Affective Disorder is the fact that the depressive episodes, along with the symptoms, occur during the same season almost every year. However, during the other seasons of the year, the individual might not experience any symptoms and may feel completely normal.
Causes for SAD
The causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder are unknown. However, it should be noted that individuals who are away from their homes during the holiday season, away from families and loved ones, are often the ones who experience this disorder.
It is also more commonly found in people between the age of 20 and 30 who might be students living abroad. These students might not be able to visit home during the holidays, and the sense of missing out on the celebration with their loved ones might be a cause for this.
It is also seen that the holiday season brings about increased consumption of alcohol. Although the increased use might not necessarily cause SAD to occur, it can act as a catalyst to those who are already having the symptoms of some major depressive disorder.
How to treat SAD?
Several treatment options can help relieve or alleviate the symptoms of SAD. These involve a combination of treatments such as light therapy, antidepressant medication, Vitamin D supplements, and of course, counseling and treatment.
Light therapy can be an excellent treatment option for those suffering from the ‘winter blues’ since it is thought to occur due to low exposure to sunlight or just light.
Exposure to artificial light, which mimics the atmosphere of being outdoors during the daytime, is a procedure to get this done. Light therapy can take between 30 minutes to 60 minutes per day, and it must be continued for some time.
This light therapy should be continued until the individual can get exposure to direct natural sunlight, around springtime. However, discontinuing this light therapy can cause the individual to exhibit the symptoms of SAD once again.
IT is also essential for individuals diagnosed with SAD to do proper self-care. This involves a list of things:
- Exposure to sunlight whenever possible
- Monitoring the energy levels, appetite changes and mood changes regularly
- Planning enough physical activities regularly
- Planning a host of pleasurable activities with friends or family, or even alone, during the winter seasons
- To keep a positive approach and attitude towards the winter season
- To always seek out help if needed
It can be tough living with any disorder, especially something as serious as a depressive disorder. However, it is essential to ask for help sooner rather than later.
In case of any mood changes, feelings of loneliness, or any of the symptoms, it can be a good idea to visit a GP or a counsellor to get more help. Treatment of the disorder is relatively simple, and there are several things you can do on your own to help yourself too!