During the winter months we often hear people mention feeling “blue” or “down.” There are others that speak of SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. You may wonder, “What on earth is SAD?” Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a seasonal, cyclic disorder that affects many individuals every year. The onset of symptoms usually begins in the fall or early winter and ceases as the seasons change and it becomes sunnier outside. For some, the seasonal depression begins in the spring or summer months.
Although SAD is not a “standalone” diagnosis in the current Diagnostic & Statistical Manual (DSM-IV-TR), published by the American Psychiatric Association, it has received much attention by the medical community over the past several years.
The most common symptoms of winter-onset SAD are:
Loss of energy
Weight gain and an increase in craving carbohydrates
Anhedonia (inability to experience pleasurable activities)
The most common symptoms of spring/summer-onset SAD are:
Increased sex drive
Insomnia (difficulty sleeping)
Some believe SAD can be caused by a dysregulation in the biological clock (circadian rhythm); melatonin levels (a hormone that assists in the regulation of mood and sleep patterns); duration of sunlight; and serotonin levels (a neurotransmitter in the brain that affects mood).
Treatment options include:
Phototherapy (light therapy). Light therapy is an easy way to decrease the symptoms of SAD. Most people can purchase a light therapy box and put it in their homes or office. The light from the light therapy box mimics outdoor, full-spectrum lighting. Some insurance companies will pay for a light therapy box if you have a prescription from your physician.
Medication. You can speak with your physician, psychiatrist or nurse practitioner about psychotropic medications that may help decrease the symptoms of SAD.
Psychotherapy. A mental health therapist can assist you in changing your negative thought processes and behaviors that contribute to your overall mood. Therapists understand how difficult it is to manage the stress of life, especially when you are feeling depressed. Therapists treat each person in a holistic manner and guide you along the way to wholeness.
Many researchers have found that a combination of psychotherapy, medication management and light therapy are beneficial to the treatment of SAD. Please speak to your physician or mental health professional if you believe you are experiencing SAD or any other mental health condition.