Seasonal Affective Disorder

woman looking out window

As the time change and the leaves fall so do our mood and thoughts. Seasonal affective disorder (also known as SAD) is subtype of major depressive disorder. SAD can be extremely serious and debilitating. It is much more than a slight change of mood. This diagnosis present depressive symptoms associated with the change of a particular season. SAD is most often linked to winter and fall months. However, there are a few individuals who experience this diagnosis in the spring and summer months. People who experience this illness often notice a significant change in sleep, appetite, and mood. They may also find themselves withdrawing from family and friends or lacking energy to expend on normal activities.

It is estimated that 10 million people are affected by seasonal affective disorder. Many in the SAD community report experiencing symptoms for approximately 40 percent of the year. Everyone with SAD do not show symptoms in consecutive years. It is more common in women than in men and age of discovery is estimated to be 18-30. SAD is more frequent in people who live far north or south of the equator and people with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression. Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults and it has been reported even in children and teens.

The good news is that SAD is treatable and steps can be taken to reduce symptoms someone is experiencing. SAD can be treated with light therapy, talk therapy, and medication management. Light therapy is exposure to artificial light. During light therapy, you sit near a device that mimics natural outdoor light. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep and thereby ease SAD symptoms. During talk therapy, individuals will be given the opportunity to participate in interventions aimed at decreasing symptoms. Interventions may include getting eight hours of sleep, getting fresh air daily, and exercise. Nature walks is a great way to tackle two of the three interventions aforementioned. Studies have shown that people suffering from depressive disorders showed significant positive change in mood when exposed to nature. Medication management will determine and utilize medicine to stabilize mood or reduce symptoms. Medication is not an exact science and may take several change of medicine or dosage before accomplishing desired goal.

As a therapist, I recommend reaching out to your primary physician or therapist if you are struggling with a depressed mood during the colder months of this year. Maintain a journal that allows you to keep track of your mood and thoughts. Share your journal with your provider to allow the specific information recorded to help you and your doctor in deciding what treatment is best for you.