Monday, January 16, 2012

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD, is a type of depression that affects a person during the same season each year. If you get depressed in the winter, but feel better in spring and summer, you may have SAD.

Anyone can get SAD, but it is more common in areas of the country where winter days are very short.  Women are affected more often than men.

If you have SAD, you may feel grumpy, moody or anxious, lose interest in your usual activities, eat more, crave carbohydrates and therefore gain weight, and sleep more or feel drowsy during the day. You may withdraw socially, have a loss of energy, and feel depressed and hopeless.

For most people, symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months.  By April or May, you feel much better and have more energy.

It’s normal to have some days when you feel down, but if you feel down for days at a time and can’t seem to get motivated to do activities you normally enjoy, see your doctor or a counselor.  This is particularly important if you notice that your sleep patterns and appetite have changed, or if you feel hopeless, think about suicide, or find yourself turning to alcohol for comfort or relaxation.

The following criteria must be met for a diagnosis of SAD:
·         You experience depression and other symptoms for at least two consecutive years, during the same season every year.
·         These periods of depression are followed by periods without depression.
·         There are no other explanations for the changes in your mood without depression.

Treatment for SAD includes light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications.  You can also make lifestyle changes that may help. These include getting outside more, exercising regularly and making your environment sunnier and brighter.

 There is no way to prevent the development of SAD, but if you take steps early on to manage symptoms, you may be able to prevent them from getting worse over time.  While symptoms usually get better on their own with the change of seasons, symptoms can improve more quickly with treatment.  Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk you have to tough out on your own.  Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year.