Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression or mood disorder subset related to seasonal changes most commonly, but not limited to, the winter months. Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and severe mental illness that affects how you feel, think, and act. A mood disorder (affective mood disorder) is a group of mental and behavioral disorders negatively impacting a person’s mood. Mood disorders have several group classifications, including:
- Abnormally elevated mood
- Mania or hypomania
- Depressed mood
- Bipolar disorder
It is difficult to pinpoint if SAD is more associated with depression or a mood disorder since symptoms of both overlap. Seasonal Affective Disorder typically starts and ends around the same time each year. SAD is often known to begin in the fall and continue throughout winter. There are cases where SAD begins in the Spring and continues throughout the Summer. Winter SAD is known as winter depression. Summer onset seasonal affective disorder is known as summer depression.
General Signs and Symptoms
- Signs and symptoms of SAD include:
- Feeling listless, sad, or down most of the day, or every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed.
- Having low energy or feeling sluggish.
- Lack of concentration
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, or guilt
- Thoughts of not wanting to live
Fall and winter SAD
- Appetite changes
- Weight gain
- Tiredness or low energy
Spring and Summer SAD
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Agitation or anxiety
- Increased irritability
Individuals with bipolar disorder have a higher risk of seasonal affective disorder.
It is time to see a doctor when:
- You feel down for days at a time
- You can not get motivated to do the things you enjoy doing
- Your sleep patterns change
- Your appetite changes
- Increased alcohol consumption
- Feelings of hopelessness
- Feelings of suicide
- Biological Clock (circadian rhythm)- Reduced levels of sunlight during fall and winter may lead to winter SAD. The lack of the sun may interfere with the body’s internal clock and lead to feelings of depression.
- Serotonin levels- A decrease in serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, might play a role in SAD. A lack of sunlight can cause serotonin levels to drop and trigger depression.
- Melatonin levels- Changes in season can unbalance the body’s melatonin levels, which play a role in sleep patterns and mood.
- Women are more often diagnosed with SAD than men.
- SAD occurs more in young adults
- Family history. People with SAD are more likely to have blood relatives with SAD or another form of depression.
- Pre-existing major depression or bipolar disorder. Depression symptoms may get worse seasonally if you have one of the conditions.
- Living far from the equator. SAD is more common among people living far from the equator. It may be due to less sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer months.
- Low levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is produced in the skin when exposed to sunlight.
- Vitamin D can help boost serotonin activity. Less sunlight and not getting enough vitamin D from foods and other sources can lead to low levels of vitamin D in the body.
SAD can worsen and lead to problems if not treated. Additional problems include:
- Social withdrawal
- School or work problems
- Substance abuse
- Other mental disorders like anxiety or eating disorders
- Suicidal thoughts and behaviors
Prevention and Treatment
There is no known way to prevent the development of SAD. Take steps early to manage symptoms to help prevent them from getting worse over time. You might be able to reduce significant changes in mood, appetite, and energy levels. Treatment helps prevent complications. Some people find it helpful to start treatment when their symptoms would start. Some people find continuous treatment necessary to stop signs from returning. It is essential to keep your mood and motivation constant throughout the year.
Treatment for SAD includes:
- Light therapy (phototherapy)
Being in good mental health is very important to be a successful, functioning member of society. If our mental health is poor, problems in our careers, families, and friendships can arise. Poor mental health can affect finances from overspending on indulgences. The human mind is highly complex and heavily influenced by our environment. That is why it is vital to be familiar with conditions like Seasonal Affective Disorder. Employers can benefit from knowing about SAD; if employers notice low team morale during certain times of the year, they can consider adjusting hours or allowing more outside breaks. Educators can benefit from learning about SAD regarding their student interactions. A familiarity with SAD may ease tension between family members and friends during the holidays. If you feel you have symptoms of Seasonal affective disorder, speak with your doctor and follow up with the appropriate resources.