As the days get shorter in the winter, many people start feeling lethargic and begin to crave warmer weather and a good dose of sunlight. For a large number of individuals, however, dreary weather can trigger something more serious--Seasonal Affective Disorder, commonly known as SAD.
What Is SAD?
SAD is a form of depression with symptoms that start during the fall and continue into the winter. Some individuals also experience symptoms as early as the spring and summer. According to many experts, SAD is caused in part by a lack of sunlight disrupting the sleep-wake cycle, circadian rhythms, and the brain’s serotonin output.
Who Is Affected
Anyone can experience SAD, including children. However, some individuals are more prone to experience SAD than others, including those with one or more of the following traits:
• Age 15-55
• Live in a region where winter days are short
• Live in a region where changing seasons cause significant changes in the amount of daylight experienced
• Have a direct relative with SAD
Symptoms & Diagnosis
Differentiating between SAD and nonseasonal depression can be difficult since both have similar symptoms. Typical fall and winter onset symptoms may include:
• Difficulty concentrating
• Social withdrawal
• Lack of energy
• Weight gain
• Changes in appetite
• Lack of interest in activities usually enjoyed
• Heavy sensation in arms and legs
To properly diagnose SAD, a doctor will need to know whether the patient experiences symptoms specific to the disorder or experiences depression during the same seasons for multiple years which then improves after the seasons change.
Treatment & Prevention
The treatment for SAD commonly includes phototherapy (a bright-light treatment or dawn simulation) for 30 to 90 minutes a day, sometimes combined with anti-depressant medication or psychotherapy. Spending at least an hour outside daily during fall and winter months can also help individuals with more mild symptoms gain the proper amount of light exposure. Taking Vitamin D supplements and probiotics to reduce stress is another tactic that can prove beneficial.
• Can children experience seasonal affective disorder?
• A Portable Glow to Help Melt Those Winter Blues
• Seasonal Affective Disorder Sufferers Have More Than Just Winter Blues
• Seasonal affective disorder: What are the symptoms and how can you treat it?
• National Alliance on Mental Illness: Seasonal Affective Disorder
• American Psychiatric Association: Seasonal Affective Disorder
• Mental Health America: Seasonal Affective Disorder
Interested in a career in Psychology? Get your start in South University's Bachelor of Arts in Psychology degree program.