What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression many people experience for varied periods of time, typically when the seasons change. During this time people with SAD feel down or unlike themselves.
The condition is most common in the fall and winter when the days are getting darker and shorter, and is reported to get better in the spring and summer when the days again gets brighter and longer. This is called a winter-pattern SAD or what many people commonly refer to as winter blues.
Less common are the people who experience these mood changes in the spring and summer. This is called summer-pattern SAD. For some people the mood changes can be manageable, while for others the condition can be much more severe, affecting how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities, and ultimately leading to depression.
Signs and Symptoms of SAD?
SAD is considered a type of depression that is characterized by its periodic seasonal pattern. Symptoms have been reported to last up to four to five months a year. Below is a list of symptoms that people have experienced. The severity and nature of the symptoms has been reported to vary from patient to patient.
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Experiencing changes in appetite or weight
- Experiencing sleep disruptions
- Feeling lethargic or agitated
- Having low energy
- Feeling hopeless or worthless
- Having difficulty focusing
- Having suicidal thoughts
For winter-pattern SAD, additional specific symptoms may include:
- Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
- Overeating, particularly carbohydrates
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal, reclusiveness
Specific symptoms for summer-pattern SAD may include:
- Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
- Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
- Restlessness and agitation
- Episodes of violent behavior
What Causes SAD?
Reports show that more women than men tend to develop SAD. It is also more common in people with an existing major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder. SAD can run in families, however it is not considered to be a genetic disease, as compared to some of the other depression related diseases.
It has been noted that people with SAD have a proclivity to have other mental disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, an eating disorder, an anxiety disorder, or panic disorder. As for the cause of the disorder, the evidence remains inconclusive. People with SAD have been found to have lower levels of serotonin in their brain when they are depressed and research has suggested that sunlight controls the levels of molecules that help maintain normal serotonin levels.
People with SAD do not have this normal regulation of serotonin. The lack of sunlight in the winter further amplifies this imbalance to feed the production of serotonin. People with SAD also produce too much melatonin, which increases sleepiness. The dissonance and compilation of too much melatonin and not enough serotonin result in a disruptive cycle that affects sleep, mood and behavioral changes.
How is SAD Treated?
There are four main categories of treatment that people experiencing SAD can undergo. These treatments include:
- Light therapy
- Antidepressant medications
- Vitamin D supplements in case of deficiency
Seasonal Affective Disorder FAQ
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression many people feel during the fall and winter months. During this time people with SAD often have low energy, feel depressed, and have trouble focusing.
SAD is more common for people living farther north where there are shorter daylight hours in the winter. That’s why people in New England for instance, are more likely to develop SAD than people in Florida.
SAD affects an estimated 10 million Americans, with women four times more likely to develop SAD than men. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that have proven effective in helping with this disorder.
Many people say it does. Vitamin D activates serotonin in the brain, so it makes sense that it would help ease depression, especially at times when you may not be getting enough vitamin D naturally from sunlight.
There are specific light boxes designed to treat the symptoms of SAD by delivering a therapeutic dose of bright light for a set period of time. The most often recommended intensity rating for these lights is 10,000 lux.
Talk to someone who can help. LifeStance is your online resource for finding the right mental health professionals to deal with seasonal affective disorder, and other related mental health issues.