If you find yourself feeling better as the spring arrives, you may have what is known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a mood disorder that is characterized by symptoms like
- Loss of energy
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Difficulty concentrating and processing information
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or find yourself turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.
Because appointments can be brief, and because there’s often a lot of ground to cover, it’s a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here’s some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do:
- Record your symptoms so that you can tell your doctor or mental health provider exactly what they are (feeling down or lack of energy, for example).
- Write information about your depression patterns, such as when your depression starts and what seems to make it better or worse.
- Make a note of any other mental or physical health problems you have, as both can affect mood.
- Write down any major stressors or life changes you’ve had recently.
- Make a list of all medications, as well as any vitamins or supplements, that you’re taking.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
To help diagnose seasonal affective disorder, your doctor or mental health provider will do a thorough evaluation, which generally includes:
- Detailed questions. Your doctor or mental health provider may ask about your mood, seasonal changes in your thoughts and behavior, your lifestyle and social situation, and sleeping and eating patterns, for example. You may also fill out psychological questionnaires.
- Physical exam. Your doctor or mental health provider may do a physical examination to check for any underlying physical issues that could be linked to your depression.
- Medical tests. There’s no medical test for seasonal affective disorder, but if your doctor suspects a physical condition may be causing or worsening your depression, you may need blood tests or other tests to rule out an underlying problem.
Seasonal affective disorder is considered a subtype of depression or bipolar disorder. Even with a thorough evaluation, it can sometimes be difficult for your doctor or mental health provider to diagnose seasonal affective disorder because other types of depression or mental health conditions may mimic seasonal affective disorder.
To be diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder, you must meet criteria spelled out in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental conditions and by insurance companies to reimburse for treatment.