The days have gotten shorter and our morning and evening commutes have gotten quite a bit darker. For some of us, this time of year brings a season-specific mental health challenge: Seasonal Affective Disorder...
What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
SAD (pretty apt acronym, eh?) is a form of depression that affects individuals during particular times of the year. The majority of individuals who experience SAD do so during cooler weather seasons when there is less sunlight. Some people however, do experience SAD during the warmer seasons.
Approximately 1 in 10 depression cases are Seasonal Affective Disorder. No one is exactly sure why some people experience SAD while others do not, but studies have identified certain risk factors. Evidence has shown there to be a genetic component, as 13-17% of people who struggle with SAD have a family member who does as well. In addition, studies have shown that women are at a higher risk for developing SAD and that the risk of experiencing the disorder decreases with age. SAD has a higher rate of occurrence in areas further north of the equator, potentially because these areas have a more dramatic seasonal reduction in daylight.
The symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder are similar to those of other forms of depression, the key difference being in their seasonal occurrence. You may be experiencing SAD if you notice that around particular seasons you experience symptoms including feelings of sadness or hopelessness, loss of energy, irritability, changes in weight or appetite, or a loss of interest in activities you typically enjoy. Many people experience some of these symptoms during the cooler months when sunlight is more scarce. Those with SAD will experience the low mood and sadness for periods of more than two weeks at a time, lasting for the majority of each day. You may be dealing with SAD if this is the case, and the low mood and other symptoms are interfering with your daily routine, performance at work or school, and/or your relationships.
So what can you do? Some treatment approaches for SAD are similar to those used to mitigate other forms of depression: namely therapy, life-style changes, or antidepressants. In addition, SAD can also be treated with light therapy and spending more time outdoors during daylight or in indoor areas that are reached by sunlight. In fact, light therapy in particular has been found to provide relief for 65% of people with SAD.
Tomorrow, December 21st, is the shortest day of the year. After that, our days will slowly be getting longer...
As we head towards those longer days, make sure to take care of yourself and if you’re seeing the signs or feeling the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, reach out for some help!