We all feel sad at times. Our sadness may be caused by a scene in a movie, an experience we have with a friend, or the sight of an abandoned pet. There are many things that may cause us to be sad but this sadness is usually temporary and can change to happiness with just a word from a loved one. For some the sadness is something other than just a passing emotion and it seems to happen about the same time each year. This sadness or depression could actually be Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD.
SAD is a type of depression that usually affects a person during the same seasons each year. SAD can affect anyone during any time of the year, but it’s most common during the shorter days of fall and winter. So who can be affected by SAD?
SAD is most common in:
- People that live in areas where winter days are short and the nights are long or there is a substantial difference in the length of daylight hours during the different seasons
- Women, like many forms of depression, SAD tends to be more common with women rather than men
- People between 15 and 55, the effects of SAD seem to decrease as we age. And
- People who have a close relatives that have been diagnosed with SAD
So what causes SAD?
There is no definite explanation for the cause of SAD. Experts think it may be cause by the general lack of sunlight during the shorter days of winter. The lack of sunlight can upset the sleep-wake cycle and the bodies other circadian rhythms and may affect the production of serotonin, a chemical in the brain that affects mood.
What are the symptoms of SAD?
Some of the most common symptoms of SAD are:
- Feeling sad, anxious, moody or grumpy more often
- A loss of interest in your usual daily activities
- You sleep more than usual
- You feel drowsy during the day even after a good night’s sleep
- You crave carbohydrates more than usual
- Loss of concentration
- Social withdrawal, and
- Weight gain
With SAD the symptoms come and go about the same time each year usually starting in September or October and ending in April or May.
How do I know if I have SAD?
SAD can be very difficult to distinguish from other forms of depression because many of the symptoms are the same. Your doctor will want to know if:
- You have had feelings of depression during the same time of year for 2 or more years in a row
- You have had any of the other symptoms of SAD such as, sleeping more than usual, craving carbohydrates or weight gain
- If you have a close relative that has been diagnosed with SAD
If I have SAD, how is it treated?
- Light Therapy. This form of therapy is usually used in the morning to simulate sunrise. This therapy is started in the fall and is continued until spring and must be used every day to be affective.
- Regular exercise, usually in the morning to help you have more energy and feel less depressed during the day. If you haven’t exercised for a while start with moderate exercises such as walking, swimming or a stationary bike.
- Or if your symptoms are severe enough, your doctor may prescribe antidepressants. If antidepressants are used, you must take them as your doctor has prescribed. If your depression gets worse, contact your doctor right away.
- If your symptoms are mild, talking with a trusted friend or therapist may also help you control the depression.
SAD is usually well managed with treatment but you may experience the effects of SAD throughout your lifetime.
In our efforts to stay healthy and fit, we mustn’t forget to take care of our mental health. Our bodies are an interconnected complex machine that requires all of its components to work together. Just like our heart health, mental health is vital for a happy productive life.