What is Seasonal Affective Disorder and Why Do We Get It?


Seasonal affective disorder, commonly referred to as SAD, is a form of depression that is affected by the change in seasons. For some, going from summer to winter really does have an impact on their mood and a lot of this is due to the amount of light that your body is getting. SAD is also called winter depression, as the symptoms of SAD are more evident during the colder, darker winter months.

Sometimes though, those with SAD can feel more down in summer and happier in the winter time. If you think that yourself or a loved one may be suffering from this form of depression, read on for symptoms, getting diagnosed, and the treatment options available.

Signs and Symptoms of SAD

There are many symptoms of SAD that can be diagnosed as regular depression. SAD is a little harder to diagnose but if you notice symptoms come and go during seasonal changes, then it may be that you are experiencing SAD. There are many other reasons that you may be suffering from depressive symptoms and this is why it is best to speak to your doctor if symptoms persist. The symptoms below can range from being mild and manageable to extremely severe and have a huge impact on everyday life.

The most common signs and symptoms of SAD are (but not limited to): an ongoing low mood, irritability, losing interest and pleasure from normal activities, feeling guilty, desperate or worthless, lack of energy and frequent sleeping during the day. You may also notice that when you do go to sleep, you are sleeping for a lot longer and you find it increasingly difficult to get up in the morning. When you are suffering from SAD and other forms of depression, your body can also crave carbohydrates, which may result in weight gain. Your partner may also notice these changes, especially as SAD can reduce your sex drive.

Why Do We Get SAD?

The main reason we suffer from any form of mental illness is due to a chemical imbalance in our brain. Sometimes this can be due to a particular stressor or an ongoing illness, and other times there is no definitive cause. Experts are unsure exactly why we suffer from SAD, but there are factors that may increase the risk of getting it. It may be that your biological clock struggles with the changes in season and this is where light therapy can be beneficial.

It may be that your serotonin levels have decreased due to lack of sunlight. Serotonin is a chemical that is released within the brain and can affect our overall mood. When we get sunlight, our body makes more serotonin, so without this sunlight, our mood could be affected. The changes in the season may also change the amount of melatonin our body produces. Melatonin is responsible for our mood and sleeping patterns, meaning without it we can struggle to sleep and can experience low mood.

Diagnosing SAD

Unlike some conditions, mental health problems can be a little harder to diagnose as there is no definitive answer straight away. If you have any of the above symptoms and they are having an impact on your daily life and are not going away with conventional treatments (eating healthy, exercising, socializing more, etc.) then visit your doctor. When you visit your doctor, they can perform a psychological assessment to determine your state of mental health. Within this, they may ask a range of questions and you need to be able to answer them honestly to be diagnosed.

It can be hard to open up about mental health but try to remember your doctor is there to help you, not judge you. Some of the things a doctor may want to discuss with you are your overall lifestyle, your mood, your sleeping and eating patterns, if the seasons seem to affect your behavior and thought pattern, if your symptoms are causing a strain on your everyday life and, if there is any family history of mental illness or SAD within your family. You may also have a physical examination, as sometimes conditions such as anemia can lead to similar symptoms to depression. A diagnosis can be confirmed if your symptoms arise within a similar time frame each year or if you suffer from periods of no depression followed by stages of depression.

Talking Therapies and Medication

There is a range of treatments available for SAD, one of them being talking therapies. For some people, discussing their feelings with others in a safe and private environment can help them come to terms with their depression and begin to work on themselves. For those who struggle to open up to others, this can be the best way to begin to overcome their SAD. The most common therapies include group therapies, or if you prefer you can speak to a private therapist or counselor.

Antidepressants can be used. This is usually taken before symptoms are due to appear. These can help our bodies to produce more serotonin (see above) and, therefore, change our mood significantly. Medications do not work for everyone though and some people would rather not take medications. If so, light therapy may work for you.

Light Therapy

Some people who are diagnosed with SAD prefer light therapy to other forms of treatment. Light therapy involves sitting under a certain type of lamp. This can simulate the light you are missing in the winter. For some, this is enough to improve symptoms and is thought to encourage the brain to produce serotonin and melatonin.

Using light therapy at home is easy; all you need is a light therapy lamp that has been tried and tested. If you want to learn more about light therapy and the benefits it can have for those with SAD, check out Halo Healthcare.

Many people suffer from forms of depression, including SAD, but with the right treatment, you can combat the symptoms associated with SAD and get back to living your best life.

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