Skip to main content

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Happy Spring everyone! This month, I will be focusing on Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Those who suffer from SAD should be feeling some relief with these changes in weather. According to the Cleveland Clinic, Seasonal Affective Disorder is defined as “depression that gets triggered by a change in seasons, usually when fall starts and worsens in the winter, before ending in the spring”. SAD is a form of depression that can affect a person’s daily life, including how they feel and think. As with all mental health disorders, people can have a mild version of this, also known as “the winter blues,” due to the timing of symptoms. January and February tend to be the most difficult months in the United States for
those who suffer from SAD.

What are the Symptoms?

Like depression, the symptoms are very similar. They can be distressing and overwhelming while interfering with daily function. Some of the most common symptoms are fatigue, even with proper sleep, as well as weight gain from overeating and carbohydrate cravings. Other symptoms include a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed, changes in appetite, change in sleep, loss of energy, increase in activity such as pacing and handwringing, slowed movements or speech, feeling worthless, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and thoughts of suicide. All these symptoms should be taken seriously.

What Causes SAD?

Seasonal affective disorder can begin at any age but will typically start to appear when a person is between 18 and 30. About 5% of adults in the United Stated experience SAD and is more common among women than men. Research has shown a link to a biochemical imbalance in the brain caused by shorter daylight hours and less sunlight in the wintertime. As the seasons change, people begin can experience a shift in their biological internal clock or circadian rhythm. This causes them to be out of step with their daily schedule. The further away from the equator a person lives, the shorter the days are in the winter, increasing the risk of SAD.

How to Treat SAD

There are different ways to treat seasonal affective disorder and to make it through those winter days. Light therapy can be helpful, which includes sitting in front of light therapy box that shines a very bright light while filtering out the UV rays. Completing this for 20 minutes or more per day during the winter, typically in the morning, can be very helpful. It can take one to two weeks to see improvements and can begin during early fall to prevent symptoms. If this does not seem to help, talk therapy and antidepressants can be very useful treatment as well. Therapy and medication can help in ways other treatment options may not be able to for some

More Information

If you believe you are suffering, please reach out for help and know you are not alone in your battle. As a reminder, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a wonderful resource for those who feel lost and cannot go on. Their number is 800-273-8255. The National Resolve Hotline is another great resource and is found at 888-796-8226. Spring is beginning to show here in Pittsburgh which should alleviate the symptoms for those battling Seasonal Affective Disorder. If you struggled this past winter, it’s never too early to begin to prepare and start thinking about your mental health for next year. I’ll see you next month with another important mental health topic.

By: Coach Kaela