Seasonal Depression

Educating Yourself About Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

Not all forms of depression are the same, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a unique form of mood disorder that takes place around the same time each year. To better understand SAD, let’s examine this type of depression and how it affects individuals at different times during the year.

In certain instances, people with SAD may experience anxiety, moodiness, and other depression symptoms that start in fall, continue into winter, and end in spring. Some SAD patients, however, experience depression symptoms that start in summer and conclude in fall or winter.

SAD symptoms include feeling depressed for the majority of a given day, virtually every day, loss of interest in activities that an individual once enjoyed, fatigue and low energy levels, difficulty sleeping, and trouble concentrating, the Mayo Clinic indicates. In addition, people who experience SAD may be more prone than others to feeling guilty, hopeless, or worthless, as well as experience bouts of agitation or irritability, appetite or weight changes, and thoughts of suicide or death.

The symptoms of SAD sometimes differ based on the seasons. Common winter-onset SAD symptoms include sleeping too much, weight gain, fatigue, and appetite changes. Spring and summer SAD symptoms may include insomnia, agitation, anxiety, weight loss, and poor appetite. Along with the aforementioned SAD symptoms, people coping with Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) may experience increased moodiness during certain seasons. This may occur due to seasonal changes, along with reduced sunlight exposure.

Some researchers have theorized that SAD occurs due to hormonal changes. There is less sunlight in fall and winter, which can lead the brain to produce less serotonin leading to abnormally functioning nerve cell pathways during these seasons, resulting in SAD.

The body’s biological clock has also been studied in relation to SAD. Since there is reduced sunlight in fall and winter, there may be a disruption in a person’s circadian rhythm, which affects an individual’s sleep patterns and how the body performs, increasing susceptibility to symptoms of depression.

There was once a time when psychiatrists believed SAD affected women more frequently than men, but recent research indicates that women and men are equally susceptible to SAD. Other factors that may impact a person’s risk of experiencing SAD include a family history of depression, current MDD or Bipolar Disorder symptoms, or living far north or south of the equator.

If a person believes that he or she is dealing with SAD, proper diagnosis and treatment are key. Once a person pursues diagnosis and treatment for SAD, this individual can take the first steps to manage his or her depression symptoms.

SAD diagnosis typically requires a patient evaluation that involves a series of steps. A physical exam is used to learn about a patient’s health, as well as determine if a physical problem is contributing to his or her depression symptoms. Lab tests like a complete blood count may be used to make sure a patient’s thyroid is working properly. Also, a psychological evaluation or questionnaire may be necessary, and allows a patient to share his or her depression thoughts, feelings, symptoms, and behavior patterns. Criteria from the American Medical Association Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) may also be used to analyze a patient’s depression symptoms.

Following SAD diagnosis, treatment options are explored. SAD treatment may involve light therapy, medication, and psychotherapy, or some combination of these treatments, Mayo Clinic states.

Light therapy involves the use of a special light box that replicates natural outdoor light to help stimulate brain chemicals linked to mood. Comparatively, antidepressant medications may help treat severe SAD symptoms. If a patient ultimately receives a SAD diagnosis, he or she may be required to start using an antidepressant just before symptom onset usually takes place each year. With psychotherapy, a patient can identify and modify negative thought patterns that lead to SAD symptoms, along with finding safe, healthy ways to cope with these symptoms.

At Achieve Medical Center, we provide comprehensive and compassionate care to patients dealing with SAD and other forms of depression. To learn more, please contact us online, or call us today at (858) 427-5060.

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