Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

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Article Source:  Mayo Clinic

 

Seasonal affective disorder (also called SAD) is a type of depression that occurs at the same time every year. If you’re like most people with seasonal affective disorder, your symptoms start in the fall and may continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, seasonal affective disorder causes depression in the spring or early summer.

Treatment for seasonal affective disorder includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.

Symptoms

In most cases, seasonal affective disorder symptoms appear during late fall or early winter and go away during the sunnier days of spring and summer. However, some people with the opposite pattern have symptoms that begin in spring or summer. In either case, symptoms may start out mild and become more severe as the season progresses.

Fall and winter seasonal affective disorder (winter depression)
Winter-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Hopelessness
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of energy
  • Heavy, “leaden” feeling in the arms or legs
  • Social withdrawal
  • Oversleeping
  • Loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Appetite changes, especially a craving for foods high in carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating

Spring and summer seasonal affective disorder (summer depression)
Summer-onset seasonal affective disorder symptoms include:

  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased sex drive

Seasonal changes in bipolar disorder
In some people with bipolar disorder, spring and summer can bring on symptoms of mania or a less intense form of mania (hypomania). This is known as reverse seasonal affective disorder. Signs and symptoms of reverse seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Persistently elevated mood
  • Hyperactivity
  • Agitation
  • Unbridled enthusiasm out of proportion to the situation
  • Rapid thoughts and speech

When to see a doctor
It’s normal to have some days when you feel down. But if you feel down for days at a time and you can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor. This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or find yourself turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

Causes

The specific cause of seasonal affective disorder remains unknown. It’s likely, as with many mental health conditions, that genetics, age and, perhaps most importantly, your body’s natural chemical makeup all play a role in developing the condition. A few specific factors that may come into play include:

  • Your biological clock (circadian rhythm). The reduced level of sunlight in fall and winter may disrupt your body’s internal clock, which lets you know when you should sleep or be awake. This disruption of your circadian rhythm may lead to feelings of depression.
  • Serotonin levels. A drop in serotonin, a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) that affects mood, might play a role in seasonal affective disorder. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin that may trigger depression.
  • Melatonin levels. The change in season can disrupt the balance of the natural hormone melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.

 Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Being female. Seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed more often in women than in men, but men may have symptoms that are more severe.
  • Living far from the equator. Seasonal affective disorder appears to be more common among people who live far north or south of the equator. This may be due to decreased sunlight during the winter, and longer days during the summer months.
  • Family history. As with other types of depression, those with seasonal affective disorder may be more likely to have blood relatives with the condition.
  • Having clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Symptoms of depression may worsen seasonally if you have one of these conditions.

Complications

Take signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder seriously. As with other types of depression, seasonal affective disorder can get worse and lead to problems if it’s not treated. These can include:

  • Suicidal thoughts or behavior
  • Social withdrawal
  • School or work problems
  • Substance abuse

Treatment can help prevent complications, especially if seasonal affective disorder is diagnosed and treated before symptoms get bad.

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