According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter and going away during the spring and summer. SAD is not just a case of the “winter blues”, but rather a recognized mental health issue. Depressive episodes linked to the summer can occur, but are much less common than winter episodes of Seasonal Affective Disorder . While the specific cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder is not known, it is thought that people who have trouble regulating the neurotransmitter, serotonin, are more at risk, as are those that overproduce the hormone melatonin, and those with a lack of Vitamin D. In particular, risk factors for Seasonal Affective Disorder include being female (four times more common in women than men); distance from the equator which reduces daylight during the winter; family history of various types of depression, including Seasonal Affective Disorder; suffering from depression or bipolar disorder (can become exacerbated seasonally as a result of SAD); and being a younger adult, teenager, or child, all of whom are more likely to suffer from SAD than older adults.
Symptoms of SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder vary based on the seasonality, but for those suffering from SAD in the Winter, symptoms include having low energy, suffering from hypersomnia (oversleeping), overeating, weight gain, cravings for carbohydrates, and social withdrawal. In the summer, symptoms may include poor appetite and weight loss, insomnia, agitation, restlessness, anxiety, and episodes of violent behavior.
Treatment Options for SAD
For those suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, there are a number of treatments and therapies. The major ones include medication and vitamin D supplementation, light therapy, and psychotherapy, but other self-help strategies such as regular exercise can be helpful. Medications may include SSRIs, and other antidepressants such as Bupropion or Wellbutrin, as well as Vitamin D supplements, but may have side effects; light therapy uses a specialized light box to provide daily exposure to a bright light in the cool-white spectrum which mimics natural light that filters out ultraviolet light; and psychotherapy includes various types of therapies and modalities. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective therapeutic treatments for SAD, among other mental illnesses and mood disorders. Traditional cognitive behavioral therapy has been adapted for use with SAD (known as CBT-SAD). CBT-SAD relies on basic techniques of CBT such as identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts along with a technique called behavioral activation which seeks to help the person identify activities that are engaging and pleasurable, whether indoors or outdoors, to improve coping with winter. The Granato Group has highly skilled mental health professionals that can provide psychotherapy to help address seasonal depression and the symptoms of depression, especially depression suffered in the winter months.