Author: Nishaanthini M
Seasonal depression, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), is a relatively common condition that affects people at the same time every year. So it can be said that it is a recurrent condition triggered by the onset of a particular season - mostly winter, and sometimes summer, for which treatment is available. If timely treatment is not given, SAD can deteriorate the quality of daily life. It should also be noted that seasonal depression is not a distinct disorder, but is just another type of depression.
This condition affects people in colder areas, as longer winters with less sunlight exposure might lead to seasonal blues. However, the condition is more severe than just the seasonal blues. SAD can start as early as young adulthood and can continue into adulthood as well. Studies also show that women are more prone to SAD than men are.
Causes of SAD:
Though there is no specific reason for SAD, it is believed that the brain secretes certain hormones that can trigger SAD during particular times of the year. Studies also suggest that winter makes people more prone to seasonal depression because of the following reasons:
Symptoms of Seasonal Depression or SAD:
- Being indoors most of the time.
- Shorter days and longer nights.
- Lack of sunlight, which can meddle with mood changes and serotonin production.
- Melatonin boost from staying indoors that might lead to oversleeping.
SAD symptoms only appear during specific seasons and come to an end once the season ends. It is to be noted that not everyone would be experiencing the below-mentioned symptoms.
Winter or Autumn-specific symptoms:
- Lack of energy
- Feeling heavy
- Loss of focus
- Thinking about self-harm and suicide
Summer and Spring-specific symptoms:
- Increased appetite leading to weight gain
- Social withdrawal
How is it diagnosed?
- Trouble sleeping
- Violent behaviour
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Agitation and Restlessness
SAD can affect any person, be it an adolescent, or a 60-year old-person. If you have any of the mentioned symptoms, consult a professional. The diagnostic criteria include:
Who is at risk?
- Presence of the mentioned symptoms
- Onset of depressive episodes during specific seasons for at least two years
- Increased frequency of the depressive episodes during the particular season than what the person might have during other times of the year
People who are more likely to develop SAD are the ones who have:
- Bipolar disorder
- Attention deficit disorder
- Eating disorders
- Anxiety disorder
- A family history with SAD
People who live far away from the equator are also at risk owing to the decreased sunlight during winters and increased day time during summers.
What are the complications involved in SAD?
Treatment for SAD:
- People who have SAD tend to withdraw from their social life, which might trigger other conditions like depression and anxiety.
- SAD can affect the quality of life and get in the way of professional or academic life if not treated on time.
- People with SAD can resort to alcohol and substance abuse as a coping mechanism.
- Suicidal thoughts and self-harm are also a complication involved in SAD.
Can SAD be prevented?
- Depending on the diagnosis, a professional might prescribe any of the following treatments (or a combination) that will be best suited for you.
- Light Therapy (exposure to daylight or equivalent form of light or as a form of treatment)
- Medications (antidepressants)
- Vitamin D
SAD cannot be prevented initially (when it hasn’t been diagnosed.) However, when a person knows that they are at the risk of SAD or is likely to have SAD during the onset of a specific season, certain measures can be taken to reduce the impact or prevent it over time. They include:
- Usage of a light box - as recommended by the health care professional
- Spending time outside and getting fresh air
- Having a well-balanced diet
- Exercising regularly – for a minimum of 30 minutes, 3 days a week
- Staying active in your social circle
- Getting help from a health care professional if it is not manageable
SAD is treatable, and with the right lifestyle choices, one can cope with it. It is common to have mood swings due to seasonal changes, but when it affects the quality of everyday life, it is advised to seek professional help to overcome the same.