Feeling Down? It Could be SAD


By Rich Adams

Fall can be a time of joy for a number of reasons. The trees turn spectacular colors of red and orange. Firearm deer season could mean venison in the freezer. Cooler temperatures mean snow is not far away, lifting the spirits of skiers, snowboarders and sled enthusiasts.

The fall and winter season also means a reduced level of sunlight, lower levels of serotonin and melatonin, which brings out seasonal affective disorder – or SAD – in some people.

SAD can bring a drop in energy and make people moody. SAD also occurs in spring or early summer, but less often than in the winter months, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Signs and symptoms of SAD may include:

  • Feeling depressed nearly every day
  • Losing interest in activities you once found enjoyable
  • Experiencing low energy
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling listless or troubled
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
  • Having frequent thoughts of suicide

The National Institute of Mental Health noted that certain attributes may increase a person’s risk of SAD, including:

  • Gender: Women are more than four times more likely than men to be diagnosed with SAD.
  • Where you live: People who live far north or south of the equator are more likely to experience SAD. For example, 1% of those who live in Florida – 1,974 miles from the equator, and 9% of those who live in New England (2,930 miles) or Alaska (9,790 miles) experience SAD. Lansing is 2,941 miles north of the equator.
  • Family history: People with a family history of depression are more apt to develop SAD than those without a family history of depression.
  • People with depression or bipolar disorder: Depression may worsen with the seasons if people have depression or bipolar disorder. SAD is diagnosed only if seasonal depressions are the most common.
  • Age: Younger adults have a greater risk of experiencing SAD than older adults. SAD has also been reported in children and teens.

Short of prescribing winters in Florida, how do doctors treat SAD?

One option is through medication. The National Institute of Mental Health reported selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used to treat SAD. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has also approved the use of bupropion, another type of antidepressant, for treating SAD.

Another treatment that does not involve medications is light therapy. The concept behind light therapy is to replace the diminished sunshine of the fall and winter months using daily exposure to bright, artificial light. Symptoms of SAD may be diminished by sitting in front of a light box in the morning on a daily basis from the early fall until spring.

Psychotherapy is yet another option to treat SAD, according to the institute. Cognitive behavioral therapy is effective for SAD and relies on basic techniques of identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts along with a technique called behavioral activation. Behavioral activation seeks to help people identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, to improve coping with winter.

Vitamin D supplementation has mixed evidence as an effective treatment of SAD. People with seasonal disorder have been found to have low levels of vitamin D. Some studies have shown vitamin D may be as effective as light therapy, but others concluded vitamin D was ineffectual.

You should talk with your physician, according to WebMD, if you feel irritable, extremely tired or depressed the same time each year. Your doctor will recommend lifestyle changes and treatment to ease the impact of SAD.


Tags: seasonal depression

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