Winter scene

Frequently dismissed by sufferers and mistaken for just a case of the winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a serious form of depression. It is most commonly experienced in the darker winter months and less frequently in fall, spring and summer. Though it is not yet fully understood, people with seasonal depression were identified by Hippocrates as early as 400 BC. Today, it is thought to affect as many as half a million people in the United States alone.

Those with SAD experience a pattern of depression during certain times of the year, usually winter, with symptoms alleviated in spring. It is thought that the body reacts to the decrease in sunlight in two ways:

  • Melatonin, a naturally occurring chemical produced by the brain connected to sleep, increases as the amount of daylight decreases. Melatonin has been linked to SAD and other forms of depression.
  • Variations in the amount of daylight may affect the circadian rhythm, or biological internal clocks as they similarly do in animals which hibernate

Typical Symptoms of Those with Seasonal Affective Mood Disorder

Many of the symptoms are similar to depression though symptoms are generally alleviated in the spring and summer months.

  • Depression, hopelessness, feelings of unworthiness
  • Anxiety, increased fear, low tolerance to common stresses
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Problems concentrating
  • Mood swings
  • Lethargy
  • Weight gain
  • Irritability
  • Loss of sex drive

Prevalence

SAD is believed to be widely under diagnosed. A combination of sufferers not seeking diagnosis and treatment and the difficulty in standard testing does not always identify SAD  disorder specifically. Of those diagnosed, three out of four are women.

  • Most sufferers are women
  • Can affect anyone, anywhere but increases with latitude and weather conditions
  • More common in those who have family members also ?????? ?????? suffering from SAD

Treatments

Once diagnosed, the treatment is usually comprised of two components, light therapy and antidepressant medications. Fortunately, most people experience significant and immediate improvement in their symptoms by simply increasing their exposure to either natural or other light sources.

  • Light Therapy, also called phototherapy, is most frequently prescribed for seasonal depression. It is necessary for the light intensity to be 25 times greater than the normal light intensity of that in most rooms, generally obtained through light boxes with an intensity of 10,000 lux for 30 minutes. It is believed that the intensity, rather than the source, is the key. According to  The National Alliance on Mental Illness studies show between 50% to 80% of those using light therapy experience complete reduction in symptoms while continuing the treatment.
  • Antidepressants have also been found to helpful in the treatment of SAD, and is generally prescribed in conjunction with light therapy, if at all.

Seeking Options

If you believe that you are suffering from a seasonal mood disorder, contact your physician for recommendations. SAD is very easily treatable, and does not have to be silently endured.