Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) or in simpler words, Seasonal Depression is generally not considered as a separate disorder. It is a type of depression which displays a recurring seasonal pattern.
In order to be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet the full criteria for major depression that occurs during specific seasons for instance only appearing in mostly winter and rarely during summer months, for at least two consecutive years.
To be classified as seasonal depression, it must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
According to Medical News Today, Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression which tends to occur at the same time each year, beginning by autumn and lasting throughout winter.
SAD affects approximately 500,000 people in the US, while ten to twenty percent of Americans suffer from the “winter blues” – a milder form of seasonal depression
Symptoms of Major Depression:
Since SAD is a branch of depression, it has symptoms that any depressed person might witness. Most of these symptoms are common among depressed people. Let’s have a look at a few.
- Feeling depressed nearly every day, mostly during the entire day
- Feeling hopeless and worthless, like a failure
- Having low energy and staying exhausted
- Losing interest in activities you previously enjoyed
- Avoiding any kind of social interaction
- Having problems with sleep, whether insomnia or oversleeping
- Change in your appetite and weight
- Feeling annoyed and agitated most of the time
- Having difficulty concentrating on tasks
- Having frequent suicidal thoughts
Symptoms of the Winter Pattern of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Having low energy and staying tired and exhausted
- Hypersomnia, where you tend to oversleep more than 8 hours
- Overeating, where you crave food every now and then
- Weight gain, this is eventually an outcome of overeating
- Craving for carbohydrates, you eat more junk and sugar to keep yourself warm
- Withdrawal from social activities, just like polar bears humans feel like hibernating during winters too.
Symptoms of the comparatively less occurring summer seasonal affective disorder include:
- Poor appetite, you loose your appetite and tend to skip meals
- Weight loss, this happens because of loss of appetite
- Insomnia, you have problem falling asleep or staying asleep
- Agitation, less of sleep and your mood itself makes you irritated and tired
- Restlessness, you can’t find peace even in the warmth of summer
- Anxiety, you become anxious during certain circumstances
- Episodes of violent behavior where you loose temper over minor issues and overreact alot
Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder:
The specific cause that results in seasonal affective disorder still remains unknown. However there are a few factors that may come into play.
Seasonal affective disorder is associated with regular depression. Things that cause depression might result in Seasonal affective disorder as well.
For example a grave shock in life due to loss of a loved one or losing a job or something precious to you, failing in an important exam, being bullied or feeling insecure or generally anything that puts a person under mental stress that eventually results in depression.
Other specific factors which might be causing seasonal affective disorder in individuals may include:
Our biological clock or the circadian rhythm. In fall and winter, sunlight is naturally reduced which may cause winter-onset season affective disorder.
This decrease in sunlight may disrupt our body’s internal clock, which automatically affects our sleep, appetite and our moods that leads to feelings of depression and mental stress or exhaustion that goes away with time as we get closer to days full of sunlight.
Serotonin levels play a similar role. Serotonin is a brain chemical or neurotransmitter that affects our mood, and it’s reduction might affect our biological clock as well.
The serotonin transporter (SERT) carries serotonin back into our nerve cells where it is inactive, hence higher the SERT activity, the lower the activity of serotonin.
Sunlight during summers keeps this setting naturally low, but when winter arrives and the nights grow longer during autumn, the SERT levels increases, naturally resulting in diminishing active serotonin levels which triggers depression among individuals.
Melatonin levels. Melatonin is a hormone which regulates our sleep wake cycle. A change in season tends to disrupt the balance of our body’s level of melatonin, that plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
Researchers at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) have recently discovered that melatonin, which is a naturally occurring brain substance, can relieve the doldrums of winter depression or a type of seasonal affective disorder.
There are various treatments available for seasonal affective disorder (SAD), including cognitive behavioral therapy, antidepressants and mainly light therapy.
Your physician or psychiatrist must recommend the most suitable treatment available for you, based on the nature and severity of your symptoms.
This may involve using a combination of treatments instead of just one. Light therapy is the most common treatment for Seasonal Affective Disorder.
All you have to do is sit in front of a bulb or light source for atleast ten minutes preferably in the morning and absorb light so that your serotonin and melatonin levels can stay at an even pace.