“Seasonal Affective Disorder starts visiting in November. Be Prepared!”
Learn about the symptoms associated with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and the best known techniques for mitigating the effects. The insidious nature of SAD means many are never properly diagnosed, thus leaving the individual stumbling through late autumn and winter with crippling dysphoric mood.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD is a form of depression with a seasonal pattern brought on by a decrease in sunlight. While everyone responds biologically to changes in light throughout the year, patients who suffer from SAD notice a significant change in their mood, enough to merit clinical evaluation and intervention. Common symptoms include:
- Persistent sadness throughout the day
- Decreased energy and sluggishness
- A strong sense of hopelessness and/or worthlessness
- Appetite and/or weight change.
While some research indicates a lack of consistent data supporting the existence of Seasonal Affective Disorder, it is clear that the evidence for, far surpasses these spurious findings.
Who Gets SAD?
In Canada, approximately 2 to 3% of individuals will experience Seasonal Affective Disorder in their lifetime. Some findings indicate that women are up to nine times more susceptible to SAD compared to men. Northern countries report a higher number of cases compared to those living at the equator. If fact, Norway has been a particular focus of clinical research, due to the wide variation in light regime throughout the year.
If I have Clinical Depression, Will I Get SAD?
It is important to distinguish between symptoms of Major Depression and SAD. Note that the former has similar symptoms. However, Major Depression occurs regardless of the time of the year. To complicated things, it should be noted that individuals with major depressive disorder are more likely to experience seasonal patterns in mood. In fact, most patients with seasonal presentations, also qualify for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder (mild to moderate). This effect is also seen in Bipolar I Disorder, revealing a seasonal patter of decreased mood (downward cycle) during the winter months.
What is the Organic Origin of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
The driving mechanism behind seasonal mood changes is Melatonin, a hormone secreted by the Pineal Gland. Melatonin is released after sunlight stops filling the daytime sky, resulting in the sensation of feeling sleepy. The relationship to somnolence and sunlight is often referred to as your circadian rhythm. During the winter months, the Pineal Gland secretes more melatonin due to lower light hitting the retina, thus altering your day-night rhythm; the more drastic the light difference (farther north), the greater the change in melatonin throughout the year.
What are the Common Treatments?
There are a variety of treatments for Seasonal Effective Disorder. The most common is light therapy. A proper light box provides exposure to 10k lux of light. Individuals sit in front of the light box when they first get up in the morning (drinking coffee while checking their phone) for at least 20 minutes. They do the same in the evening when the sun starts to fall.
While light therapy is one critical method for treating SAD, you should also consider a variety of approaches when designing a personal mitigation plan. In fact, the more methods you use at the same time, the greater the impact. We want to draw your awareness towards the biopsychosocial contributors to the overall problem of seasonal mood changes. The team at Finding My Psych recommends the following (for details, hit the linked content within each suggestion):
- Use light therapy every day (above).
- Map your symptoms and mitigation plan using the CHANGES Model.
- Master the Triple Column Technique by, Dr. David Burns.
- Evaluate your diet! Are you consuming too much sugar?
Are Your Symptoms More Severe?
Be open to the possibility that your symptoms are an indication of a bigger problem. There is a probability that you are experiencing symptoms associated with Major Depression. While some depressive presentations are mild and recurrent in nature, understand that if left untreated, the problem can become quit severe. Start with a full understanding of the symptoms of Major Depression. Is this you? If so, read over our comprehensive list of techniques designed to improve symptoms from a holistic perspective.