Do you ever feel as winter approaches you find it more difficult to wake up in the morning or feel like you start lacking energy to perform everyday activities, and maybe finding it more difficult concentrating on completing daily tasks? Maybe you are not sure what’s causing you to feel down every year when the season changes, it gets colder, and the days get shorter. While many people just go year to year feeling a drop in energy level or depressed around the time the season changes into winter, it could actually be a mood disorder, called “Seasonal Affective Disorder”, or referred to as “SAD” .
Between 4%-6% of people in the United States suffer from SAD. Another 10% to 20% may experience a mild form of winter- onset SAD (AAFP), or what’s commonly known as having the winter blues. While this type of depression is seasonal, starting in late fall to early winter, and in most cases, it fades as the weather changes into spring and summer, it can lead to major depression. Also, it is more common among woman than men.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), also known as winter depression is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience depressive symptoms in the winter, or, less frequently, in the summer, spring, or autumn, repeatedly, year after year. Once regarded skeptically by the experts, seasonal affective disorder is now well established(Wikipedia). The U. S. National Library of Medicine notes that some people experience serious mood changes when the seasons change and may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. SAD was first formally described and named in 1984 by Norman E.
Rosenthal and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health (Wikipedia). Rosenthal, a psychiatrist, also wrote a book on the subject. In his book he says that, “one of the most astonishing facts to emerge from recent research is that most people in the northern United States and Europe experience seasonal changes in mood and behavior, also known as seasonality” (Winter Blues). Rosenthal reports that an estimated 14 million Americans suffer from SAD. There are different theories of what the causes of SAD are. Rosenthal theorized that lesser amount of light in the winter was the main cause of this seasonal depression.
He found that other contributing factors are, inherent vulnerability, (women are most vulnerable, and in the age range of twenties to forties) and stress. He notes,”Light deprivation is not the only environmental factor that can trigger feelings of depression in the winter. Stressful events may also contribute to them. ”(Winter blues) A different theory is that the cause is linked to a lack of serotonin (brain chemical), that affects mood. Another theory is that the cause may be related to melatonin, which is produced by the pineal gland of the brain.
A recent research study at the University of Virginia suggested that a mutated gene in the eye may account for the cause of some cases of seasonal affective disorder. Not everyone who has SAD experiences the same symptoms. And some people will experience symptoms more severe than others. Some common symptoms of winter depression are; a change in appetite, craving sweet or starchy foods, weight gain, a heavy feeling in the arms or legs, drop in energy level, fatigue, a tendency to oversleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, increased sensitivity to social rejection, and avoidance of social situations-not wanting to go out, (AAFP).
Many people with SAD report at least one relative with a psychiatric condition, most frequently a severe depressive disorder or alcohol abuse. (NAMI) Also there could be depressing feelings of hopelessness and suicidal thoughts, and a loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy. Other symptoms could be insomnia or even morning sickness. There are different treatments doctors prescribe for patients diagnosed with this disorder. Depending on what degree the person is experiencing these symptoms, whether the symptoms are mild or severe, a doctor may prescribe anti depressant medication, or another treatment.
Researchers are still researching how bright light can lift depression. A popular treatment doctors have proven to treat SAD, is light therapy. Light therapy is generally about thirty minutes a day. If your doctor suggests you try light therapy, you may use a specifically made light box, or a light visor that you wear on your head like a cap and you will sit in front of the light box for that time each day. (AAFP) The light boxes are about $250 to 500 dollars, and most often are not covered by insurance.
Other treatments for SAD are, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, ionized air administration, and supplementation of the hormone, melatonin. According to an article in Newsmax. com, Dawn Simulation, is a new treatment method that claims is the most effective to treat SAD. It says, ”this is a new medical breakthrough that stimulate the effect of dawn by turning on the lights of the bedroom gradually for a period of time. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of mental disorders (DSM), is published by the “American Psychiatric Association”.
It provides standard criteria for the classification of mental disorders. This identifies SAD as a sub type of major depression. Many mental health professionals use this manual to determine a patient’s diagnosis after an evaluation. Recent studies suggest there is an association between people having seasonal affective disorder and people with Bi-Polar and Attention –deficit/hyperactive disorder, (ADHD). Some people with winter depression have mood swings. If the mood swings are severe, a doctor might see if the person has Bi-polar.
One recent study showed that woman with ADHD have been found to be more at risk of suffering from SAD than non- ADHD women, according to findings of the Canadian Psychiatric Association. If you feel that you have some of these symptoms and they are interfering with your relationships in your personal life or work, they might be clues that you may want to talk to your doctor to see if you possibly have this winter depression known as, seasonal affective disorder.