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Seasonal Affective Disorder: Not Just SAD

This Sunday we will turn back our clocks one hour as Daylight Savings ends. Is that a groan I heard? For many people, this change in time and the resulting early evening darkness is a prelude to a seasonal pattern of depression. It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to the “winter blues” or simply talk about their dread of the darkness and chill that accompany the Fall and Winter months. The inverse is also true: the positive impact that many experience with the increased amount of sunlight and warmth in the Spring and Summer.

Almost 20 years ago, this seasonal return of depressive symptoms was first recognized and substantiated in the mental health field as a diagnosis. Today, it is officially known as Major Depressive Disorder with seasonal pattern. More commonly, it is referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. While many of us prefer the light over darkness, the warmth over cold, those with SAD experience symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder with an onset and remission associated with certain times of the year, over a period of at least 2 years. Winter onset and Spring remission are common, with a smaller prevalence of the opposite pattern. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Persistent depressed mood (may manifest as irritability or generalized anger rather than sadness)

  • Loss of energy

  • Hypersomnia (excessive sleep and/or ongoing daytime sleepiness)

  • Overeating, weight gain, and/or increased cravings for carbohydrates

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Social withdrawal

  • Loss of interest in typically pleasurable activities

While there is no one cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder, like many mental health conditions, there is interplay between genetic, biological and environmental factors. For instance, SAD is found to be more common in geographic locations further North and South of the Equator. Melatonin, a natural hormone and serotonin, a neurotransmitter, are partly impacted by light, as is our body’s circadian rhythm.

Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder

A variety of options have been found to be effective for treating Depression, including Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you are experiencing the above symptoms or are concerned, your Physician may recommend any of the following:

  • Phototherapy (light therapy)

  • Psychotherapy (counseling)

  • Medication, supplements or herbs (possible interactions should be discussed with your Physician)

  • Yoga, meditation and/or acupuncture

  • Eat nutritiously including an increased intake in fruits, vegetables and proteins with a reduction in high loads of carbohydrates and processed foods

  • A regimen of physical activity

  • Develop consistent sleep routines

As with any treatment, please consult your Physician to determine the best options for you.

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