What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD is a type of major depression that one experiences during specific times of the year. It is usually experienced by individuals with normal mental health, but then experience symptoms of depression during summer or winter.
It is also referred as:
summer depression, or
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder
It is believed that SAD may come as a remnant of the behavior hibernation in our early ancestors. Due to the change in weather, especially during winter, activity is diminished because food and supply are more difficult to obtain. Given the scarcity of food, it leads to low mood and activity which are usually the symptoms of such disorder.
Although the actual, specific cause of the disorder remains unknown, it is perhaps influenced by age, genetics and the body’s chemical makeup, as is the case for other mental conditions.
Some of the more specific possible factors include:
The body’s biological clock or circadian rhythm
The reduced amount of sunlight during fall and winter may disrupt the body’s internal clock, which responsible in letting one know when to sleep and be awake. This disruption may possibly bring forth feelings of depression
Levels of serotonin in the body
Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that affects mood, which may also be influenced by the amount of sunlight one receives
Levels of melatonin in the body
Melatonin is a hormone that affects one’s sleep patterns and mood. It is possible that the changing seasons may disrupt the natural balance of this hormone
Signs and symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder
Most of the time, symptoms of SAD appear towards the end of fall or early winter, and are usually gone by spring. Winter Depression is more common that its summer counterpart.
Fall and Winter Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms:
Loss of energy
Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
Spring and Summer Seasonal Affective Disorder symptoms:
Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
Increased sex drive
For some individuals with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can cause feelings of mania – this is called Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Its signs and symptoms include:
Continuously elevated mood
Rapid thoughts and speech
Unbridled enthusiasm out of proportion to the situation
Treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder
There are various treatment methods for SAD, including light therapy, psychotherapy and medications if necessary.
Also called phototherapy, it exposes individuals to bright light through a specialized light therapy box. The light emitted mimics lighting outdoors and may cause improvements in the hormones that are linked to mood
Although SAD is more commonly caused by an imbalance of the brain’s chemistry, psychotherapy can help address any behavioral and mood patterns that cause the disorder. It can help control the negative thoughts that one has while suffering from the disorder
Antidepressants are commonly used to treat SAD, given that it is a form of depression
For patients with bipolar disorder, a more careful mix is recommended to ensure it does not elevate feelings of mania while trying to treat and address depression.