There comes a time of year where the weather cools down, the leaves fall from the trees and the sun disappears before 6PM. Along with these changes, for many this time of year brings about a severe change in mood that can last for months or until the season changes. This is known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD is a mood disorder which is characterized by depression that usually occurs at the same time each year. It typically occurs in climates where there is less sunlight, starting in fall or early winter and going away during the spring and summer months. Another form of SAD, referred to as summer pattern SAD or summer depression takes place during the spring and summer months. However, this is less common.
SAD isn’t considered a separate disorder, it’s a type of depression and the signs and symptoms mirror those of major depression.
Signs & Symptoms
- Feeling depressed for most of the day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Trouble with sleep
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in weight
- Irritability or agitation
- Low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Difficulty concentrating
- Suicidal ideation
- Social withdrawal
It’s important to note that like with other mental disorders, seasonal affective disorder presents itself differently in every person.
There are certain factors that may put an individual at greater risk of developing SAD. Some of these risk factors include:
- Women are more likely than men to be diagnosed with SAD
- Young people are more likely to develop SAD
- Places where there is less sunlight or living farther from the equator
- A family history of depression can increase the likelihood that SAD may develop
- People with a history of depression or bipolar disorder are more likely to develop SAD
When SAD is left untreated, it’s possible that it could turn into long-term depression. There are treatments that can be very beneficial for those living with SAD. These include:
- Light therapy
Light therapy – Light therapy exposes an individual to artificial light. During light therapy, you’ll sit near a lightbox that emits a strong light that mimics sunlight. The length of time a person sits in front of the lightbox depends on how they respond to the therapy.
Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy is a type of talk therapy such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). During CBT you’ll have sessions with a licensed therapist. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help you identify as well as change the negative thought patterns to more positive ones.
Medication – Your doctor may prescribe antidepressants to help treat SAD. For some, symptoms are so severe and disruptive to life that medication is needed. Be mindful that it can take several weeks for the medication to reach its full effect. As with most other medications, there are a number of side effects to be aware of. Some common side effects of antidepressants are:
- Weight gain
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Loss of appetite
- Low sex drive
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
- Feeling anxious or agitated
- Dry mouth
- Blurring of vision
- Worsening depression
It’s important that you talk to your doctor if these symptoms persist.
Some other ways to cope with depression are by practicing meditation and yoga. These practices can help you feel more grounded. They’ll give you space to sit with your thoughts and emotions and to release them. I know it’s colder out but being out in nature is also beneficial to our mental health. Also, try to keep a journal in which you write in as much as you can. This will help you keep track of your moods and release some of the negative thoughts you’re having.
Practice gratitude. Even on days where we’re at our lowest, there is always something to be grateful for. Keep a list in your phone or in a notebook of things you’re grateful for. Lastly, if your depression is to the point where you’re experiencing sucidal thoughts, make a list of reasons to live. This list can be compiled of ANYTHING. Anything you deem worthy of a reason to live.
You don’t have to face depression alone. Not only is help available but there are so many resources on the internet. I know firsthand how crippling depression is. It takes so much from you. It robs you of truly living life but with the right treatment, things will improve.