The winter blues, also known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can be a common experience for many people. It often begins in the fall, with January and February being the most challenging months. Here is some quick information about Seasonal Affective Disorder and some ways you or someone you love can overcome it.
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM – 5), Seasonal Affective Disorder is now referenced as Major Depression with seasonal pattern and is not a separate disorder. SAD is considered a type of depression that often begins in the fall and winter months when the days get shorter.
The symptoms associated with SAD can range from person to person, with some people experiencing a debilitation in their day-to-day functioning. Because SAD is a type of depression, many of the symptoms are depressive symptoms, with some additional ones related to the winter months. SAD symptoms can affect how a person thinks, feels, and behaves. Here are some common symptoms:
- Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day. Can be feelings of being sad, lonely, empty, hopeless, irritable.
- Diminished interest in pleasurable activities most days or nearly every day.
- Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain.
- Experiencing sleep problems of excess sleep or not sleeping.
- Agitation and feeling sluggish
- Low energy
- Difficulty concentrating or indecisiveness
- Feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt
- Throughts of death, suicidal ideation, or suicide attempt
SAD specific symptoms for winter months may include:
- Weight gain
- Social withdrawal
SAD specific symptoms for summer months may include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor appetite or excessive weight loss
- Episodes of violent behavior
It is unknown as to the specific causes of SAD; however, there is research that shows that people diagnosed with this type of depression may have the following:
- A reduced activity of the brain chemical serotonin.
- May live in areas with little sunlight during winter months (Alaska or New England area)
- May produce too much melatonin, which increases the need to sleep. Therefore, leading to an imbalance in the sleep cycle.
- Lack of vitamin D, which may be due to the lack of sunlight exposure.
There are a few ways in which SAD can be treated and it is best to talk with your doctor and try different options:
- Light therapy
- Speaking with a therapist
- Taking antidepressants
- Increasing Vitamin D if deficient
In addition to the list above, other helpful ways to increase support is to:
- Share this with someone you trust and increase your support system.
- Take a walk during the day and try to be outside more if possible.
- Pay attention to what you are eating and increase fruits and vegetables.
- Engaging in deep breathing exercises.
Whether you have a current diagnosis or know that you just want to feel better, our clinicians are here to help. You do not have to go through this feeling alone. Contact our certified and licensed mental health counselors to start learning ways to improve your mental health and learn healthy ways to overcome depression.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed, pp 155-188).
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