Do you find yourself feeling sad now that the days are shorter and you’re spending more time indoors out of the cold?
You could have what is known as seasonal affective disorder or SAD.
“Seasonal affective disorder is a form of depression that people get this time of year,” says Dr. John Brinker, a family medicine and primary care physician at St. Luke’s Family Practice in Stroudsburg. “SAD is more than ‘It’s a rainy day, and I’m not myself,’” Dr. Brinker says.
SAD typically starts in late fall and continues through the winter, Dr. Brinker says. It goes away come spring and summer when the days are longer and warmer, he says.
People can have seasonal depression in the summer, but it is far less common, Dr. Brinker notes.
Dr. Brinker says the symptoms of SAD are the same as depression and can include:
- Loss of interest in things you normally like to do
- Changes in sleep–you may be sleeping more or sleeping less than you need to
- Changes in appetite–you may be eating more and gaining weight or eating less and losing weight
- An increase in anxiety–you worry more about things in your life
- Having difficulty concentrating
- Having less energy and more fatigue
It’s hard to know how many people have SAD because many people don’t seek treatment, Dr. Brinker says. “It could be anywhere from 1 million to 3 million in a particular season,” he says. “It is a fairly common disorder.”
Risk factors for SAD
Anyone can suffer with SAD. SAD has even been reported in children, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Women are four times more likely to suffer with SAD than men, the NIMH says.
Other risk factors include:
Living far away from the equator. More people who live in New England and Alaska suffer from SAD than people who live in Florida.
A family history of depression or bipolar disorder. People who suffer from depression or who have bipolar disorder or have a family history of these disorders are at greater risk for SAD, the NIMH says.
If you find that your low mood is interfering with your everyday life, you should seek medical attention, Dr. Brinker says. Most people who have SAD start with their primary care physician. “You should talk to your doctor if you feel depressed during the fall and winter months and don’t want to feel that way again,” he says.
Treatment for SAD can include:
- Medication. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), common antidepressants, are used to treat SAD.
- Light therapy. Light therapy provides artificial light to replace sunshine.
- Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy has proven to help people with SAD. CBT is learning how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. People also are encouraged to find activities they can enjoy in the winter.
People with SAD have less vitamin D in their bloodstream. But it is not clear whether vitamin D supplements can help, according to the NIMH.
“Treatments are customized to patients’ wants and desired outcomes,” Dr. Brinker says. Some people prefer medication and some people prefer other treatments, he says.
People who know they have SAD should try to seek treatment before their yearly symptoms arrive, Dr. Brinker says.
Note: This story was contributed by St. Luke’s University Health Network. Its publication is part of a news partnership between Saucon Source and SLUHN.