It’s that time of year again. The days get shorter and the nights get longer. It’s colder outside. And that dreadful four letter word… S.N.O.W.! Many of us anxiously await the changing seasons as we face another bout of the “winter blues.” But for about 5% of the U.S. population who experience seasonal depression, this time of year can be dreadful.
Seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, occurs when the seasons change. This is typically the beginning of fall and continues through the winter months. However, SAD can also be linked to summer or spring months, though this is less common.
Living in Ohio, we are likely familiar with the winter blues or seasonal affective disorder. In fact, the further one is from the equator, the more at risk they are for developing SAD. This is due to the reduced level of sunlight in the fall and winter months, which may affect an individual’s serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that impacts mood. Lower levels of serotonin are linked to depression. Increased levels of melatonin, a sleep-related hormone secreted in the brain, also have been linked to seasonal affective disorder. This hormone, which impacts sleep patterns as well as mood, is produced at increased levels in the dark; therefore, production often increases in winter months which can result in symptoms of seasonal depression.
Symptoms of SAD are the same as that of major depressive disorder. Symptoms would be present during the fall and winter months with full remission during the spring and summer months. Symptoms include:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day
- Loss of interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities once enjoyed
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain, or decrease or increase in appetite nearly every day (Note: Those experiencing seasonal affective disorder report craving and eating more starches and sweets, and gaining at least 5% of body weight)
- Trouble sleeping (i.e., sleeping too much or not at all)
- Visible slowing of physical activity such as movement and speech
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
- Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate as well as indecisiveness
- Recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation
Treatment for seasonal affective disorder is available. The most widely used treatment for SAD is light therapy, which is daily exposure to bright artificial light. Click here » for more information on light therapy. Additional self-help strategies and treatment modalities that have been effective for major depression is also recommended for seasonal affective disorder. For example, you could try exercise, meditation, support groups, journaling or finding a hobby. In addition, if you think you may be dealing with the winter blues, or SAD, contact a professional – your physician or a StarkMHAR’s network provider »