Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer. SAD affects about 1% to 2% of the population, while a milder form of winter blues may affect as many as 10 to 20 percent of people.
Symptoms The usual characteristics of recurrent winter depression include oversleeping, daytime fatigue, carbohydrate craving and weight gain, although a patient does not necessarily show these symptoms. Additionally, there are the usual features of depression, especially decreased sexual interest, lethargy, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, lack of interest in normal activities, and social withdrawal. For those who experience SAD in the summer rather than the winter, the usual characteristics include depression more likely to be characterized by insomnia, decreased appetite, weight loss, and agitation or anxiety.
SAD is often misdiagnosed as hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, infectious mononucleosis, and other viral infections. There are no blood tests to confirm the presence of SAD. However, a trained clinician can diagnose the symptoms and suggest therapy options. With the right course of treatment, SAD can be a manageable condition.
Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), psychotherapy and medications. Don’t brush off that yearly feeling as simply a case of the “winter blues” or a seasonal funk that you have to tough out on your own.
Things You Can DO Seasonal depression can make it hard to motivate yourself to make changes. Take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year. Here are other tips that may help you or a loved one during treatment: • schedule fun and relaxation into your day. • Adopt healthy habits and exercise regularly. • Reach out to family and friends – let them help.