What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a depressive disorder that arises during changes in the season.
It will typically start in the late fall season and persist until the late spring. However, the occurrence of SAD is not limited to winter. Symptoms of summer-onset seasonal affective disorder, sometimes called summer depression, are similar to the winter blues.
Common SAD symptoms include:
- Decreased mood or depressive symptoms
- Decreased motivation
- Decreased pleasure in activities
- Lack of energy
- Sleep disturbances
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feeling restless
- Difficulty focusing
- Appetite changes (carbohydrate craving, weight gain, weight loss)
- Thoughts of death or suicide
- Social Withdrawal
What causes SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder is generally a result of the seasonal pattern of shorter daylight hours during the fall and winter months, causing decreased exposure to sunlight and decreased vitamin D levels.
That, in turn, disrupts our body’s biological clock, also known as the circadian rhythm.
Lower serotonin levels, combined with increased Melatonin levels in the brain, plus sleep disruptions, result in lower moods and feelings of depression.
In the Summertime, SAD can be caused by longer days, which can cause disruptions to one’s circadian rhythm. Things like excessive heat and humidity, and the belief that one “should” be enjoying the summer months, may also play a role.
Who is at risk for seasonal affective disorder?
Those with a family history or personal histories of depression or other mood disorders are more at risk of developing SAD.
The same goes for people living further away from the equator and who experience changes in daily sunlight during different seasons.
If you are someone who typically experiences a regular recurrence of Seasonal Affective Disorder, there is a predictable pattern to look out for.
While you cannot necessarily prevent it, starting therapy early allows you to prepare via tools and coping mechanisms before the return of symptoms.
How can therapy help with SAD?
Therapy gives those suffering from SAD an outlet to express their feelings and helps guide and support them through more difficult times of the year.
In addition to behavioural therapy, you may wish to speak to your family doctor about treatment options related to sunlight, like special lamps for light therapy or vitamin D. Physical exercise and diet can also help.