It’s fall here in the United States. For much of the country, this means darker skies, shorter days, and colder temperatures. For many people, the change in season can also mean an increase in depressive symptoms.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder (aka SAD)?

SAD is a type of depression that occurs during a change in season, usually fall and winter. People who suffer from SAD have many of the same symptoms as those with depression: lack of energy, feelings of hopelessness, withdrawing from friends and family, weight gain, and not enjoying things that one used to enjoy.

How many people experience SAD?

Many people experience seasonal affective disorder. According to Dr. Norman Rosenthal,  6 percent of the people in the United States suffer from SAD 1. This does not include the number of people who experience a less severe form of seasonal depression – the winter blues. SAD is more common in the northern areas of the United States, and less common in areas of the south where there is more sunshine.

How is SAD treated?

There are several treatments for SAD. Like major depressive disorder, SAD can be treated with psychotherapy and medication. But SAD also responds very well to light therapy. Light therapy uses a full spectrum, intense light to help decrease depressive symptoms.

What is the difference between SAD and clinical depression?

People who experience SAD have the same symptoms as people with major depressive disorder. However, major depressive disorder is not limited to the darker days of fall and winter.

Tips for surviving SAD

  1. Watch what you eat. You may feel like loading up on carbohydrates, alcohol, and processed foods, but try and avoid this. Poor diet can contribute to mood swings and lack of energy. Fish has lots of good omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin D, which people naturally get through sunlight, can be lacking in the winter, and is a good supplement to take.
  2. Make sure you get enough exercise, preferably outside. Exercise naturally improves mood and helps with sleep.
  3. Consider investing in a light box. You can pick them up without a prescription, and many people have found them useful for decreasing SAD symptoms.
  4. Don’t isolate yourself. Spend time with others, even if you have to force yourself to. Isolation can lead to increased depression.
  5. Do something fun. Take a class, join a book club, begin writing a memoir, go bowling, blog, or start collecting garden gnomes. Do something new.
  6. If your seasonal depression becomes worse, seek treatment. Reach out to your physician or mental health provider. Medication or counseling may be needed to get you through the season.

 

 

 

 

1. Rosenthal NE. Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press; 2006.

 

photo from Shutterstock

 


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    Last reviewed: 1 Oct 2012

APA Reference
Harmon, J. (2012). Surviving S.A.D (Seasonal Affective Disorder). Psych Central. Retrieved on October 31, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2012/09/surviving-s-a-d-seasonal-affective-disorder/

 

 

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