Seasonal Affective Disorder

The days are getting shorter and the clocks are turned back. During this time, many go through seasonal affective disorder, known as SAD. Otherwise known as the winter blues or winter depression, SAD can dampen anyone’s mood and energy. 

Seasonal affective disorder is categorized as a seasonal depression that occurs around the same time every year. Its symptoms are similar to major depression, the only main difference being that SAD isn’t year round and ends once the cold season ends. According to the article Seasonal Affective Disorder: An Overview of Assessment and Treatment Approaches by Sherri Melrose,  “Information for the lay public identify that people with SAD can feel sad, irritable, and may cry frequently; and they are tired and lethargic, have difficulty concentrating, sleep more than normal, lack energy, decrease their activity levels, withdraw from social situations, crave carbohydrates and sugars, and tend to gain weight due to overeating.” These are a few symptoms, and do not have to be present in each individual dealing with SAD, as not everyone is affected the same way with these symptoms. Some might have other symptoms not listed above, that can be more serious and can lead to harm. If you or your loved one is dealing with SAD or depression, and have thoughts of harming themselves, it is strongly recommended to contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).

There are a few reasons as to why seasonal affective disorder happens. The most common reason is the circadian rhythm of the human body. The circadian rhythm is the human body’s natural clock, which causes people to be tired at the same time each day. The shortened day length can cause a disruption in one’s circadian rhythm. Since it is night early, the body is tricked that it is bedtime, leading to an onset of feelings of depression. Reduced sunlight can also cause a drop in serotonin levels, which can lead to depressive moods. Lastly, the level of melatonin, which is the hormone that controls sleeping patterns, is affected due to the length of the day. The shorter the day, the longer the darkness that the region is in, which can cause a change in the person’s sleeping patterns. It can be four o’clock, but outside it looks like it is midnight. In summary, the main cause of SAD, to no surprise, is the season. 

Like depression, SAD can be treated using antidepressants, but there are other methods as well. One well known therapy is light therapy. SAD mainly occurs during winter and in locations farthest from the equator. Those who live in warmer places rarely experience SAD, as 1% of the population in Florida compared to 9% of the population in Alaska, experience SAD. To add to this, the amount of people having either the winter blues or SAD itself increases as the distance from the equator increases as well.  How does this tie into light therapy? Well, during winter, depending on the location, there are shorter days with the sun setting at an earlier time and the night being longer than during the warmer seasons. According to a Mayo Clinic article, Light Therapy, “Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. Using a light therapy box may also help with other types of depression, sleep disorders and other conditions.” Light therapy uses a light box that emits UV rays that mimic natural light. It is supposed to help increase the serotonin levels to increase the productivity, happiness and concentration of a person. 

While SAD can definitely affect many people, using these remedies and other forms of treatment can help people struggling with their mental health get through the tough season. And, luckily, once warmer weather comes around, the weight will be lifted off of their shoulders.