Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is estimated to affect at least 10 million Americans, and it’s up to 4 times more common in women than it is in men.
If you think you may have SAD, or you just want to learn more about this condition, read on to get all of the information you need from the office of Dr. Quintal & Associates.
- What Is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)? Understanding The Basics
- Recognizing The Signs & Symptoms Of SAD
- What Causes SAD?
- What Are My Treatment Options For SAD?
- You Can Get The Help You Need For Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
What Is SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder)? Understanding The Basics
Seasonal Affective Disorder, abbreviated as SAD, is a type of depression that typically begins and ends at the same time every year. In the vast majority of cases, SAD will begin in the fall/autumn months, continue through the winter months, and begin to improve in the spring and summer.
However, SAD can occur in the spring and summer as well, though this is much less common. In most cases, your symptoms will start out mild and become more severe and obvious as the season progresses.
Recognizing The Signs & Symptoms Of SAD
There are a number of symptoms that may occur if you’re affected by SAD. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Feelings of depression almost every day, throughout the majority of the day
- Lack of interest in activities or hobbies you used to enjoy
- Low energy levels
- Issues sleeping including insomnia and oversleeping
- Changes in your weight or appetite
- Feelings of agitation or sluggishness
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness
- Frequent thoughts related to death or even suicide
Many of these symptoms are similar to those of major depressive disorder. The primary difference between typical cases of depression and SAD is that the symptoms of SAD only occur during a particular time of year – for example, if you experience these symptoms during the winter but feel mostly normal in the summer, you likely have SAD, and not major depressive disorder.
What Causes SAD?
The specific causes of SAD are currently unknown. However, it’s believed that factors contributing to SAD include:
- Your circadian rhythm/biological clock – Lower levels of sunlight in winter are thought to affect your body’s biological clock and circadian rhythm. It’s thought that this, in turn, can lead to feelings of depression.
- Reduced serotonin levels – Lower levels of sunlight are thought to cause a drop in serotonin, a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that affects your mood, and this is believed to be a major factor in winter-onset SAD.
- Changes in melatonin – Melatonin helps regulate sleep. It’s believed that the change in seasons can disrupt the balance of melatonin, which has a large role in sleep patterns and mood regulation.
A combination of these factors is thought to be the cause of SAD, but research is still ongoing to determine the true cause of this disorder.
What Are My Treatment Options For SAD?
There are a variety of treatment options for SAD, so you can get the help you need if you believe that you have seasonal affective disorder. After you see a doctor or mental health professional for a diagnosis, they may discuss the following options:
Light therapy (phototherapy) uses a special “light box” that exposes you to bright light within the first hour that you wake up each day. This light is designed to expose you to light that’s at a similar wavelength as natural outdoor light. It has been found that phototherapy can cause changes in brain chemicals that are related to mood regulation.
Typically, this is one of the first-line treatments for SAD, and it appears to be effective for most people. It will begin working within a few days or weeks, and has no major side effects. If your doctor recommends a light box, they will provide you with further information about the best one for you, how to use it, and more.
Antidepressant medications like SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) that are designed to help regulate mood and treat depression may also be prescribed for SAD during the season that it affects you, particularly if your symptoms are very severe.
Talk therapy (psychotherapy)
In some cases, therapy may be recommended to help with SAD. You can discuss your feelings openly with a therapist, learn coping mechanisms and strategies to control depression, find healthy ways to deal with SAD, and get more information about stress management. This may be recommended in combination with the above treatments.
For more information about how to treat SAD, or to get a diagnosis, we recommend scheduling a free consultation.
You Can Get The Help You Need For Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)
If you often suffer from the “winter blues,” or experience strange, unexplained mood changes during the spring and summer months, you may have SAD – and without proper diagnosis and management, your condition could continue to get worse, and negatively affect your day-to-day life.
So don’t wait. See a qualified mental health professional for a diagnosis right away, and get the help you need from a licensed therapist at the office of Dr. Quintal & Associates.
We specialize in therapy for depression – both for SAD and major depressive disorder – and can give you the help you need to overcome SAD, and live a normal, peaceful, and depression-free life 12 months a year. Also, we offer tele-counseling options.