As the seasons start to change, more may be in shift than just the weather.
For some people, the change from spring and summer into fall and winter bring with it major bouts of depression known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
Larry Bates, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Alabama, said people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder usually see their symptoms remit during the spring.
“We are fairly certain that there is some kind of circadian rhythm disturbance,” Bates said. “We’re pretty sure that’s at least involved in it, because there seems to be some sleep disturbances in addition to depression.”
While people with depression tend to have disrupted sleep cycles as well, he said people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder will typically stay up later and get up later rather than going to bed earlier and waking earlier like they do with depression.
Licensed professional counselor Alicia Kelly, of Kelly Counseling and Associates in Florence, said seasonal affective disorder can come with any seasonal change, but it’s most common during the fall and winter.
“You can use a mix of therapy and medication (to treat SAD),” Kelly said. “A lot of people use light therapy. Lifestyle changes, like exercise, getting outside in the sunshine during the day tends to help.”
Kelly said if you think a friend or family member suffers from seasonal affective disorder, it’s important to encourage them to seek help. Especially when their depression starts to interfere with daily functioning at work, school or in their social life.
“Give loving support that doesn’t indicate that you’re abnormal because you happen to have a shift in moods,” Kelly said. “Talking about it leads to feeling more comfortable, and it helps remove stigma from mental illness.”
According to the American Psychiatric Association’s website, psychiatry.org, symptoms of seasonal affective disorder can include fatigue, lack of interest in activities, social withdrawal, craving carbohydrate-loaded foods and weight gain.
The Mayo Clinic said on its website women are more likely to be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, but the symptoms in men may be greater.
The site also indicated it’s more common the farther north or south you live from the equator, where the seasonal differences are greatest.
Kelly suggested rearranging your home or office to position yourself to have more access to sunlight during the day, or getting outside during the day and exercising.
“Now might be a good time to plan a trip to the beach,” she said.