Well, it’s that time of year when the leave change colors, the temperature drops, and the shorts and t-shirts get switched out for sweaters and pants. Though autumn has it’s charm for many, for others, it’s the time of year that starts yet another winter dealing with a type of depression known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that’s related to, you guessed it – changes in seasons. The disorder, also known by the fitting acronym SAD, tends to begin and end around the same time every year. Though some people experience SAD during the summer months, it is most commonly experienced beginning in the fall and continuing through the winter months.
So what’s the difference between major depressive disorder and SAD? The main difference is that seasonal depression tends to lift during the summer months, and without treatment, major depression does not. Unlike major depression, those diagnosed with SAD may only need to take medication during the winter months, as the depression tends to lift in the warmer weather. That being said, these decisions should always be made under the guidance and supervision of a psychiatrist or mental health professional.
How do you know if you or someone you care for, is experiencing seasonal depression, versus normal feelings of a low mood on a cold and gray winter day? For starters, the depression and low mood of SAD is consistent and not just a now and then thing. It basically mirrors the symptoms of major depression, some of the most common being:
Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
Having problems with sleep
Feeling sluggish or agitated
Having low energy
Feeling hopeless or worthless
Having difficulty concentrating
Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
For winter pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:
Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)
Just like major depression, there is no cure for seasonal depression, but there are many effective treatments. Thousands of people experience relief every year from SAD with the help of therapy, medication, a healthy diet, exercise…and even something known as light therapy.
Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light during the dark winter months. During light therapy, you sit or work near a device called a light therapy box, or under a light therapy lamp. These special lamps give off a bright light that mimics natural outdoor light, which is thought to affect the brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, thus easing depressive symptoms.
According to the article, “Seasonal affective disorder: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?” in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants, light therapy in the morning, has provided the best results because the light in the early morning aids in regulating the circadian rhythm ( the natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours).
If you’re interested in learning more about the history of light therapy, you may want to check out this article on the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health website: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Though light therapy can be effective, in many cases it is not enough to relieve the depressive symptoms entirely. In these cases, psychiatrists will often use medication such as antidepressants to help.
If you or someone you love is struggling with SAD, help is available. Please do not hesitate to call our office and set up an appointment.
For more information on light therapy and recommendations for light therapy and light therapy lamps, you can check out the following link