What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?
With dropping temperatures and shorter days, some may notice their mood can hit a record low of its own. This could be seasonal affective disorder, with the fitting acronym, SAD. This disorder has mood changes that correlate with the seasons and happen the same time every year and It is also called seasonal depression.
What are the Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder?
Symptoms may include low energy, anxiety, feelings of sadness or grumpiness, little motivation to do fun things and excessive sleep. People often have an increased appetite with a craving for carbohydrates. SAD normally occurs in the fall and winter months and is rare in the spring and summer months.
What are the Risk Factors for SAD?
There is no known direct cause of SAD. However, a drop in sunlight exposure is related to lower serotonin levels. Here are some facts about the trends seen in SAD. It is more common in:
It can be easy to brush these feelings off as “winter blues” or “holiday depression”. The truth is that these feelings can become as severe as clinical depression. Relationships, jobs and even physical health can be affected. A diagnosis of SAD is made when the depressive symptoms completely go away when the season changes (this is in the spring for most) and are present for at least 2 years. It is estimated that 6% of Americans have a diagnosis of SAD.
How is SAD Treated?
The treatment of light exposure has shown excellent results. Light therapy can improve a patient’s mood as quickly as a week after starting treatment. The patient purchases a light box and is advised to sit in front of it for at least 30 minutes daily (usually in the morning). It is a mood booster and the closest thing to actual sunlight. It is important to purchase a high quality light box (2,500 – 10,000 lux) and use it daily to guarantee the best results. If not used consistently, depressive symptoms may soon return.
Other effective treatment options include antidepressants and counseling. Also, natural sunlight will always have a positive impact. Those precious times when the sun is shining are not to be taken for granted. Taking walks outside or opening the blinds on a sunny day can work wonders. With the right treatment, those with SAD can expect a bright mood forecast ahead (pun intended).
About the Author
Dion Short Metzger, MD is a board certified psychiatrist who emphasizes the importance of the recognition of psychiatric disorders among patients and their families. She has a passion for assisting those who suffer from mental illness while trying to dispel the stigma attached to such labels. She believes that education is the most powerful tool at her disposal to make that possible.