Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) is commonly referred to as winter depression or winter blues. It is a depressive disorder that tends to occur in the fall or winter months when temperatures start to fall and the days get shorter.
Those suffering with SAD are more likely to sleep and eat more. Common symptoms associated with other forms of depression may also occur such as lethargy, sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, trouble with concentration and social withdrawal. Symptoms may become severe enough that the person will have thoughts of death and suicide.
The exact cause of seasonal affective disorder is not known but there are some factors that may be involved. It is thought that the reduced amounts of sunlight in the fall and winter months can disrupt our body’s internal clock (circadian rhythm) and lead to depressed mood. Less sunlight can cause a drop-in serotonin levels and thus trigger depression. Also, seasonal changes may alter melatonin levels which can affect sleep patterns and subsequently our mood.
Women are more at risk for SAD than men. Those who already have clinical depression or bipolar disorder may see symptoms worsening in the fall and winter months. The incidence of SAD is greater among populations that live farther north.
Treatments for seasonal affective disorder can include light therapy, medications and psychotherapy. For those with Bipolar disorder it is important that their doctor is aware of this diagnosis as light therapy and ant-depressants can trigger a manic episode.
Light therapy involves sitting a few feet in front of a special light therapy box to give you exposure to bright light. The light therapy acts to replace the amount of sunshine that is lost in the fall and winter months. Antidepressants known as Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are used to treat SAD. Talk therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) are known to be effective in the treatment of depressive symptoms.
Those with mild cases of winter blues would benefit from getting more sunlight by either getting outside more or sitting in a south facing winter. Getting regular exercise and keeping a regular sleep schedule can also be helpful.
Consult your physician or a mental health professional if you believe you may be dealing with seasonal affective disorder.