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Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression triggered by seasonal change, typically starting in the fall and stretching through the winter months. The American Psychiatric Association has officially classified SAD as a major depressive disorder with seasonal patterns. 

SAD may also be referred to as seasonal depression. About 5% of adults in the US experience seasonal depression, and it tends to affect women four times more than men. At Axis Integrated Mental Health, we approach depressive disorders with a holistic approach to help you feel like yourself again.

Susceptibility to Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal depression tends to work like clockwork and begins and ends at about the same time every year. SAD saps your energy and makes you feel moody. 

You may experience worsening symptoms during late fall and early winter, followed by an easing of symptoms when spring comes around.

In rare instances, a person may experience seasonal depression symptoms in the spring or early summer, resolving in fall or winter. This type of seasonal depression is called summer-pattern SAD or summer depression and is less common.

Seasonal affective disorder is more common in younger people rather than older people. Additionally, you may be at higher risk of SAD if you:

  • Have other mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder
  • Have relatives with seasonal depression or other mental health conditions, such as major depression or schizophrenia.
  • Live at latitudes far north or far south from the equator. As you travel towards the poles, there is usually less sunlight during the winter months. For instance, people in New England may be more likely to develop SAD than people in Florida.
  • Live in a perpetually cloudy region.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal depression can sometimes be mistaken for the “winter blues.” However, SAD has stronger symptoms than winter blues and should not be ignored. 

Symptoms usually last four to five months per year and should be treated with the same care as any other form of major depression. 

Symptoms of SAD include those associated with major depression and other specific symptoms that differ for winter-pattern and summer-pattern SAD.

Symptoms of major depression may include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day
  • Feeling sluggish or agitated
  • Having low energy
  • Difficulty concentrating on thoughts and tasks
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Problems with sleep
  • Having frequent thoughts of death or suicide

Symptoms of winter-pattern SAD may include:

  • Oversleeping (hypersomnia)
  • Overeating, particularly with a craving for carbohydrates
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal (feeling like “hibernating”)

Symptoms of summer-pattern SAD may include:

  • Trouble sleeping (insomnia)
  • Poor appetite, leading to weight loss
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Episodes of violent behavior

Causes of Seasonal Affective Disorder

Although no specific cause has been identified for seasonal affective disorder, some factors seem to play a role in the occurrence and reoccurrence of SAD.

It has been seen that during winter months, the decreased amount of sunlight can result in a shift in your biological clock. Your changes in mood, sleep cycles, and hormones are attributed to this internal clock; And when it shifts, your routines get thrown out of balance.

Since sunlight helps regulate serotonin, it is hypothesized that reduced sunlight means people with SAD have reduced serotonin activity in the brain. Serotonin is the brain chemical that regulates mood. 

Serotonin levels are also boosted by the presence of vitamin D in the body. Since sunlight helps produce vitamin D, less sun in the winter can mean a vitamin D deficiency and lead to lower serotonin levels. 

Another reason for seasonal depression could be the overproduction of melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness. In winter, the lack of sunlight can mean an overproduction of melatonin, which impacts your mood and sleep patterns. 

Finally, negative thoughts and feelings about the cold winter months can cause stress for some people with SAD.

Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosis and Treatment

For a confirmed diagnosis of SAD, you must have:

  • Symptoms of major depression.
  • Depressive episodes that occur during specific seasons for at least two consecutive years.
  • Depressive episodes that happen more frequently during a specific season than during the rest of the year.

Treatment options for SAD can include:

  • Light therapy
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, which is a type of talk therapy
  • Antidepressant medications
  • Spending time outdoors
  • Vitamin D supplements

Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) in Denver, Colorado

If you have noticed significant changes in your mood and behavior whenever the seasons change, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder. While this can be a challenging situation, the good news is that proper care and treatment can help resolve the problem.

Axis Integrated Mental Health in Denver provides a full suite of integrated mental health treatments under one roof. For appointments, call us at (720) 400-7025 or fill out our contact us form today.

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