While no one likes grey, gloomy days, for a small percentage of us, a season of such weather can cause a spiral into a serious depression that’s known as Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD for short. No one yet fully understands what causes SAD, but using light therapy as a treatment has boosted the theory that shortening days during fall/winter interrupts some people’s circadian rhythms and this brings the depression.
SAD affects from 1-10% of the general population each year according to a review published in 2009 in the journal Physician and Sportsmedicine. Someone with SAD often starts to feel down in the autumn and the feelings grow gradually worse during the winter months. SAD is marked by sleepiness during the day and a lack of energy as well as increased appetite and subsequent weight gain.
Other symptoms include unhappiness, irritability and no interest in hobbies and activities that used to be pleasurable. Withdrawing from friends and family is another common symptom of this condition. These symptoms sound a lot like depression, and while the symptoms of SAD do parallel regular depression, the distinguishing feature of SAD is a yearly cycle of depression followed by an easing of symptoms.
A diagnosis of SAD is typically made be evaluating your answers to a series of questions about how you’re feeling. Sometimes there will be physical testing as well, but this is only to rule out other things that might be causing your depression. Sometimes it’s hard for professionals to tell SAD from depression or bipolar disorder, and this is why a trained professional may be needed to help you figure out what’s happening.
To be officially diagnosed with SAD, you have to:
- Experience depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years during the same season.
- Periods of depression have been followed by time without symptoms with no other explanation for the change in mood.
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Symdroms And Treatment For Seasonal Affective Disorder. Continued…
Most often, SAD strikes in the fall/winter months, but there is a form that bothers people during the summer months. These patients are also more likely to deal with anxiety, irritability, weight loss, insomnia and increased sex drive.
Once you have a name for what you have, how do you manage it? Doctors suggest that you try and get as much natural daylight as possible by taking walks outside, standing in the doorway or by a bright, sunny window. Regular workouts and staying connected with your social support system are also important for easing SAD symptoms.
Many who have SAD use light therapy and while it’s popular, and may well make sense, studies have yet to show how light therapy might work, or how effective it is. Light therapy involves sitting before a specialized florescent bulb that’s intended to mimic daylight. You sit for 30 minutes a day, before the sun rises if possible. Using this therapy, patients typically feel an improvement in symptoms in three to four weeks, if you aren’t feeling better after this, light therapy may not be right for you.
Other options for SAD treatment include antidepressants, though therapy might also prove helpful. Some have also tried St. John’s Wort and melatonin to deal with the symptoms, but it’s always best for you to talk with your own healthcare team about what the right approach is for you. Not everything is right for everybody, and your own doctor or therapist is the one who’s’ best equipped to advise you.
To your good health,