Cindi Griffin is a family nurse practitioner who sees patients at our Highland and Montfort clinics. She has been part of Upland Hills Health since 2016.
Is it a SAD time of year for you or for someone you know?
Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that can happen in relation to the changes in seasons. It affects about 10 million Americans. The symptoms usually start and end about the same of the year, every year. Most people who experience SAD will start to experience symptoms in the fall and this will continue through the winter months. Sometimes, these symptoms can start in the spring months or early summer but this is less common.
Some of the general symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder include:
- Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
- Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Having low energy
- Having problems with sleeping
- Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight
- Feeling sluggish or agitated
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Feeling hopeless, worthless or guilty
- Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide
People who experience this in the fall/winter months can have a few other symptoms as well, including oversleeping/fatigue, increased appetite, especially for high carb foods, and weight gain. Spring symptoms of SAD can include insomnia, poor appetite, weight loss, and anxiety and/or agitation.
Causes of SAD
Risk factors include individuals with a history of depression, a family history of SAD, and living far from the equator. The farther from the equator, the less sunlight in the fall and winter months. The causes are still not well-identified; however, the reduction of sunlight in the fall/winter months can disrupt a person’s internal clock, which can lead to feelings of depression. A drop in a brain chemical called serotonin (serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced in the body that can affect mood) can also occur during this time. It’s believed that the decreased sunlight may cause your body’s production of serotonin to fall. A decrease in melatonin due to the decreased sunlight may also play a part in this.
People with SAD can experience social withdrawal, problems at work or school, and some turn to substance use to help deal with their symptoms. Anxiety and eating disorders have also been reported. SAD can become severe enough to cause a person to think about suicide.
What can you do?
If you do experience these symptoms, don’t dismiss them. This can be difficult to deal with on your own. Don’t hesitate to speak with your primary care provider–we can help! The earlier in the season that you report your symptoms, the better chance that we can work together to manage them.
Recommended treatment for SAD includes light therapy (phototherapy), medications that can help with your mood, and psychotherapy. Exercise, having a great social support system, and your health care team can help with symptoms.