What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a form of depression related to changes in seasons. It usually begins in the fall when the days get shorter and lasts through the winter. SAD doesn’t only happen in the colder months though. It can also affect people in the summer, starting from spring. SAD symptoms may start out mild and become more severe with the season
What Causes SAD?
It isn’t clear what causes SAD. Some factors include:
- The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may affect the body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm).
- Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
- The change in season can interrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin. Melatonin plays a role in sleep patterns and mood (NIMH, n.d.).
Who is Affected by SAD?
- Adults are at higher risk of SAD than children and teenagers. After the age of 50, the risk of SAD starts to decline.
- Women may be more likely to experience SAD.
- People in more northern countries have a higher chance of experiencing SAD. The amount of daylight you receive changes as you move north, and that change can be part of SAD.
- SAD sometimes runs in families. It is more common in people who have relatives with other mental health concerns (CMHA, 2013).
Symptoms of SAD
SAD is a type of major depression and so the symptoms are similar. These include:
- Persistent low mood and/or irritability.
- Feelings of despair, guilt and worthlessness.
- Change in appetite, in particular for starchy or sweet foods.
- Weight changes.
- Fatigue, or low energy levels.
- Physical problems, such as headaches.
- Tendency to oversleep.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Avoiding social situations.
- Decreased sex drive (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).
Treatments for SAD
Light Therapy/Photo Therapy
This type of therapy involves sitting near a special kind of light for about half an hour a day. It mimics natural outdoor light and can affect brain chemicals linked to mood. Before you buy a light box, talk with your health care provider about the best one for you.
Counselling/Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Also called talk therapy, CBT can help you learn healthy ways of coping with SAD. CBT can help break negative thoughts and actions that keep depression going.
Some people with SAD can benefit from using antidepressants especially if symptoms are severe (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).
Tips & Remedies to Ease Winter SAD Symptoms
Maximize sunlight exposure
- Spending more time outdoors during the day. Make a habit of going on walks when the sun is out.
- Arranging your living space so you’re exposed to sunlight.
- Keeping curtains open during the day.
- Installing skylight and lamps.
Take a trip
If possible, take a trip to a sunny, warmer location.
Add physical activities into your routine. Keep your social life active. Take time for you, and use that time to engage in activities and hobbies you enjoy.
Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. Like other types of depression, SAD can get worse and lead to problems if it’s not treated. Some complications include suicidal thoughts or behaviour, social withdrawal, school/work problems, and substance abuse (Mayo Clinic, n.d.).
If you’re struggling with your mental health this winter season, book an appointment with us or call us at (780) 430-4769.