As people prepare for the colder temperatures that accompany winter, they can find that they feel more lethargic or depressed. It is common knowledge that people may experience periods of depression during the winter months. These winter blues are a condition that healthcare professionals call seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
For people with SAD, the diminished sunlight during the winter months produces noticeable behavioral changes. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the symptoms appear in the fall and can continue throughout the winter months. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a category of depression that emerges in particular seasons of the year. These depressive episodes can occur in the summer, but the winter episodes of seasonal affective disorder are more common.
Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals are still not certain as to what precisely causes SAD. It is well-known fact that most biological life slows down during the winter months. For people, it is theorized that the reduction in sunlight during the winter actually disrupts serotonin and melatonin levels. Two chemicals that are important for regulating mood and sleep.
Research suggests that people have an increased risk of developing SAD if they have a family history of depression, live in a northern climate, are under the age of 30 and female.
It is believed that SAD may occur in people who are more susceptible to disrupted circadian rhythms. These circadian rhythms tell the body when to produce more hormones, sleep or wake-up at a specific time each day. An overproduction of sleep hormones like melatonin can disrupt the body’s normal sleep cycle, which appears to be linked to increased periods of darkness.
With less exposure to sunlight, the internal biological clock that regulates mood, sleep, and hormones are altered. This delay in the circadian rhythm may cause individuals to feel depressed or experience a desire to sleep more.
Seasonal affective disorder is not officially considered a separate disorder, but it is a type of depression that has a recurring seasonal pattern. Mental health professionals believe that seasonal affective disorder can be triggered by shorter days and less sunlight exposure. The condition affects roughly 10 million Americans per year and is more common in cold climates.
Symptoms & Treatments for SAD:
A common response from people struggling with this condition is that they have low energy and feel like they are unable to get out of bed. However, there are specific seasonal affective disorder symptoms that people should watch for in themselves or loved ones. These symptoms can vary from mild to severe and can include symptoms that are similar to major depression. According to the American Psychiatric Association, common symptoms include:
- Changes in sleep patterns.
- Feeling of sadness or depressed mood.
- Thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide.
- Marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed.
- Changes in appetite; usually eating more and craving carbohydrates.
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue despite increased sleep hours.
- Increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements.
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions.
This mental health condition can occur may in any age group, but typically starts when people are between the ages of 18 and 30.
Treatment options for seasonal affective disorder vary, but the condition can be treated by a variety of therapies. Common treatments include light therapy, antidepressant medications, talk therapy or a combination of these treatments. While symptoms will sometimes improve on their own with the change of season, symptoms will likely improve more quickly with treatment.
About Emerald Psychiatry & TMS Center:
The successful treatment of seasonal affective disorder, as well as other related conditions, is one of the treatment specialties at Emerald Psychiatry & TMS Center. As a behavioral and mental health practice, they understand that they are here to serve the needs and concerns of their patients.
Their practice is proud to provide mental health treatments and services throughout central Ohio. For more information about treatments and services, email them or call (614) 580-6917.
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Contributor: ABCS RCM