In the last few weeks, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” tossed around a time or two. But for many people, the winter months are anything but wonderful. With colder temperatures and fewer hours of sunlight, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can become a real and significant problem.
Here is a breakdown of the facts and causes of SAD, and treatments you should consider if you think you may be suffering from SAD.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a type of depression that tends to follow changes in seasons. While fall and winter are by far the most common seasons, some people may even experience SAD during the spring or early summer.
SAD is often disregarded as just a case of the “winter blues” or a “funk,” but it can be much more serious—especially as a subtype of major depression. While it’s normal to have up and down days, if feelings of hopelessness, lack of energy or difficulty sleeping persist, it might be time to talk to your doctor. Other symptoms to look out for are:
Lack of interest in activities you normally enjoy
Loss of libido
Thoughts of death or suicide
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Most of those struggling with SAD are women under the age of 30. Though SAD can occur anywhere in the world, it is more common in areas farther away from the equator.
While it’s not exactly known what, specifically, causes SAD, there are a few contributing factors. Given the ties to seasonal changes, SAD could be a result of decreased sunlight disrupting your body’s internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Lack of sunlight also can cause a drop in your serotonin levels, which affect mood, and an increase in your melatonin production, which affect sleep patterns.
Is There a Treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Luckily, SAD sufferers don’t have to struggle alone. There are three main courses of treatment for SAD: light therapy, medication and psychotherapy.
Light therapy is the most common treatment and involves sitting in front of a special light therapy box. The recommended timing and intensity of light therapy varies from patient to patient, so make sure to talk to your doctor before purchasing a light therapy box on your own.
As with other types of depression, medication can be prescribed if symptoms are severe or coupled with an additional diagnosis, like bipolar disorder.
Talking with a therapist has also proved helpful for sufferers of SAD to learn coping strategies.
When Should You See a Doctor?
Many people hesitate to seek treatment for seasonal affective disorder because they fear they won’t be taken seriously. SAD is recognized as a serious condition and your doctors want what is best for you. You should feel comfortable talking to your doctor about any of the above symptoms at any time, but especially if you notice the severity increasing or begin to have thoughts of suicide.
To prepare for your appointment, make a list of everything you’ve noticed about your symptoms and the patterns of your depression. Your doctor will probably ask you several questions about how you’re feeling, so do your best to be as honest and forthcoming as possible to make sure you receive the treatment you need.Don’t suffer in silence. If you think you are experiencing seasonal affective disorder, make an appointment with your doctor today.