What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

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Does the winter season make you feel more depressed than it should? Sometimes, most people go through short intervals where they may feel sad or not like themselves. These mood changes may start and end when the seasons change. People might feel “down” when the days get small in the fall and winter (also called “winter blues”) and they might begin to feel better in the spring, with longer daytime. These feelings are referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

In some cases, these mood changes are more severe and may affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities. Mostly, the symptoms start in the late fall or early winter and go away during the spring and summer; this is known as winter-pattern SAD or winter unhappiness.

What are the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?

SAD isn’t a separate disorder, however it’s a type of depression identified by its recurring seasonal pattern, with symptoms continuing for 4 to 5 months in a year.

Some of seasonal affective disorder symptoms may include:

  • Sleeping problems
  • Low energy
  • Depression
  • Losing interest in favorite activities
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Agitation
  • Difficulty in concentrating

Symptoms (Seasonal Affective Disorder summer-pattern) may include :

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite
  • Violent behavior

Symptoms (Seasonal Affective Disorder winter-pattern) may include :

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia )
  • Overeating
  • Social withdrawal

Who develops Seasonal Affective Disorder?

  • SAD is common in individuals with clinical depression  or bipolar disorder, especially bipolar II disorder, that is related to recurrent depressive and hypomanic episodes (less severe than the full-blown manic episodes typical of bipolar I disorder).
  • People who have SAD tend to have other mental disorders like attention-deficit, eating disorder, anxiety disorder or panic disorder.

What causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

  • Vitamin D deficiency : The reduced level of sunlight in fall & winter may cause seasonal affective disorder. This decrease in sunlight may disrupt your body’s internal clock and lead to depression.
  • Serotonin Levels : A fall in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects a person’s mood might play a role in seasonal affective disorder. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin.
  • Melatonin levels : The change in seasons might disrupt the balance of the body’s melatonin level, which plays a role in sleep patterns and moods of a person.

How is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) treated?

  • Medications : Antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat seasonal affective disorder, these can significantly enhance a patients’ mood. You should talk to your family doctor before taking these.
  • Vitamin D : Nutritional supplements of Vitamin D can help improve some symptoms of SAD.
  • Light Therapy : It exposes people to a bright light every day. The person sits in front of a box with fluorescent light tubes covered by a plastic screen to block UV rays, every day for 30-45 minutes, first thing in the morning.
  • Psychotherapy or “Talk Therapy” : It aims at helping people learn how to cope with difficult situations. It is conducted in two weekly group sessions, focusing on replacing negative thoughts with more positive thoughts. It includes a process called behavioral activation, which helps individuals identify and schedule pleasant indoor or outdoor activities to combat their loss of interest.

Because the timing of winter pattern seasonal affective disorder is predictable, people with this disorder can be at ease from starting the SAD treatment as mentioned above, before the fall to help prevent the disorder. Other preventive steps that could be taken:

  • Balanced Diet : Eat a balanced diet, low in processed foods.
  • Workout : Regular exercise can improve metabolism & help with depression.
  • Social Support : Stay involved with your social circle & activities

When should I call my physician?

If you feel fatigued, depressed & these feelings seem to be seasonal, or may be suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, you should talk to your family physician or a healthcare provider about your concerns. The problem might be a severe one and one should seek medical advice directly and with proper therapy, the disorder can be prevented.

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