Seasonal Affective Disorder, properly appellated with an acronym SAD, is a type of depression that occurs at the same season each year. Winter is the most common time for SAD and that is why this emotional phenomenon is also known as winter depression or the winter blues.
The symptoms of depression usually begin sometime during late autumn when days become shorter and continue toward winter. This low mood takes an upturn when spring and summer come along. Unfortunately, SAD may return the next autumn or winter season to begin its cycle.
Causes of SAD
Scientists are not sure what causes Seasonal Affective Disorder but the theory is that the lack of sunlight during autumn and winter’s shortened periods may have some effect on the brain’s hypothalamus which in turn has something to do with:
- upsetting one’s circadian rhythm which throws your sleep-wake pattern off-kilter
- lowering the levels of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone that affects one’s mood, sleep, and appetite
- increasing the production of the hormone, melatonin, which makes one more drowsy than usual
Symptoms of SAD
SAD is a subtype of major depression, the only difference is that it comes and goes with the trigger season. The symptoms can range from mild to severe, in which case the symptoms may hamper the person’s day-to-day activities. Symptoms of SAD include:
- chronic low mood or sadness
- feelings of hopelessness, despair, guilt
- plunging self-esteem
- lethargy and drowsiness during daytime
- disinterest in day-to-day activities or even hobbies. A person with SAD may suddenly take no pleasure from his usual interests
- sleeping longer hours and still feeling exhausted upon waking
- carbohydrate cravings
- weight gain
- weakened immune system
Who are Most at Risk?
There seems to be more women patients of SAD than there are men. People who live far from the equatorial region which have shorter daylight hours are prone to the condition. It is however interesting to know that Iceland has a very low incidence of seasonal affective disorder. The theory is that Icelanders eat a voluminous of fish, about 90 kg. per year, compared to Canadians who average only 24 kg. per year and have a high incidence level of SAD.
SAD is also hereditary so people with the genes may develop the condition.
Additionally, age is a factor for susceptibility as well. People between the ages of 15-55 are at higher risk of developing SAD than other age groups.
Treatment for SAD
- Light therapy – a light box is employed for the patient’s needed exposure to light. This special lamp is made of fluorescent lights that are brighter than indoor bulbs but not as bright as
natural sunlight. UV lights, tanning lights, and heat lamps cannot be used to substitute for light boxes.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or other talking therapies. Counselling can help one understand SAD, manage its symptoms, and help prevent future recurrences.
- Lifestyle modifications – implementing an exercise regimen, changes in diet, adjustment in sleeping schedules, and the like to maximise exposure to sunlight and manage stress
- Antidepressant Medication – these include SSRIs such as Paxil and Zoloft or bupropion (Wellbutrin) and venlafaxine (Effexor).
- Vitamin D supplementation – Another theory of cause for SAD is that the sufferer may not have enough Vitamin D because of insufficient absorption of Ultraviolet-B by the skin. In this case, Vitamin D supplements may then be included as part of the therapy.
- Negative air ionization — Releasing a sufficient density of negatively charged particles into the air while a patient is asleep has led to almost a 50% improvement in the condition.