(Seasonal Affective Disorder)
Do the bleak winter months get you down more than you think they should?
Maybe you have seasonal depression, also known as seasonal affective disorder or
SAD. Seasonal depression is a mood disorder that happens every year at the same
time. A rare form of seasonal depression, known as "summer depression," begins
in late spring or early summer and ends in fall. But in general, seasonal
affective disorder starts in fall or winter and ends in spring or early summer.
What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?
There are two seasonal patterns with SAD. One starts in the fall and
continues through the winter, and the other starts in late spring or early
summer. The fall-onset type of SAD, often referred to as "winter depression," is
better known and easier to recognize -- and we know more about it than we know
about its counterpart.
Hormones manufactured deep in the brain automatically trigger attitudinal
changes at certain times of year. Experts believe that SAD is related to these
hormonal changes. One theory is that reduced sunlight during fall and winter
leads to reduced production of serotonin in the the brain. Serotonin is a
neurotransmitter that has a soothing, calming effect. The result of there not
being enough serotonin is feelings of depression along with symptoms of fatigue,
carbohydrate craving, and weight gain.
Because foods high in carbohydrates (chips, pretzels, cookies) boost
serotonin, it is thought that they have a calming, soothing affect on the body
SAD usually starts in young adulthood and is more common in females than in
males. Some people with SAD experience very mild symptoms and feel out of sorts
or irritable. Others have debilitating symptoms that interfere with
relationships and productivity.
Because the lack of enough daylight during wintertime is related to SAD, it
is seldom found in countries within 30 degrees of the equator, where there is
plenty of sunshine year round.
What Are the Symptoms of SAD During Winter?
People with SAD have many of the normal signs of depression, including:
- Decreased levels of energy
- Difficulty concentrating
- Increase in appetite
- Increased desire to be alone
- Increased need for sleep
- Weight gain
What Are the Signs of SAD During Summer?
Symptoms of summer SAD include:
How Is Seasonal Affective Disorder Diagnosed?
It is very important that you do not diagnose yourself with seasonal
affective disorder. If you have symptoms of depression, see your doctor for a
thorough assessment. Sometimes, physical problems can cause depression. But
other times, symptoms of seasonal depression are part of a more complex
psychiatric problem. A health professional should be the one to determine your
level of depression and recommend the right form of treatment.