Seasonal Affective Disorder, aka SAD
It’s no wonder that Seasonal Affective Disorder (the medical term for those nasty winter blues) dissolves to SAD as an acronym. First medically coined in 1984, Norman Rosenthal and his colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland compiled 30 years of research relating to a mood disorder occurring during the same months each year within a certain group of individuals (young adults and women).
Causes and Symptoms
Lack of sunlight and a drop in serotonin/melatonin levels are the chemical culprits. The symptoms can range from lack of energy throughout the day, poor sleep, decreased sex drive, social withdrawal/increased sensitivity to rejection, and/or overeating. There are also two separate types of SAD given the time of year, Fall-onset (or winter depression, beginning in late fall to early winter and eases during summer months) and Spring-onset (summer depression, beginning in late spring to early summer). Although Spring-onset is far less common, self-assessing one’s mood/shift in behavior during warmer months can help those who may suffer during an assumed “off season.”
Breaking down SAD
Per Johns Hopkins Medicine, the key to understanding more about depression or SAD are:
- Depression is different from feeling sad or unhappy. It is not a sign of personal weakness or a condition that can be willed or wished away.
- Get help. If you think you may be depressed, see a healthcare provider as soon as possible.
- Women are affected more often than men.
- Without treatment, depression can last weeks, months or years, but most people respond well to medication, therapy or a combination of the two.
- Most people with clinical depression who seek treatment see improvement, usually within weeks.
Resources to Recovery
A health care provider or mental health specialist should be the first resource to contact if individuals believe that they may suffer from SAD. It can indeed be difficult to determine a diagnosis. Fortunately, doctors and professionals have composed a verified list of treatment options open to all who suffer each winter. Those options include:
- Treating intrinsic medical conditions
- Light therapy
- Hormonal therapy
- Use of antidepressants
- Dietary modifications
- Increased exercises
- Cannabidiol (CBD)
- Sleep hygiene
- Dawn stimulation
- Vitamin D
Starting the Conversation
If you or someone you know may be struggling with SAD or another form of depression, the first step is to understand how to talk about mental illness with your loved ones. There is a plethora of resources that help teach families how to respectfully communicate concern which you’ll find included below.
How to talk about mental health (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration)
- If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat 988lifeline.org
- To learn how to get support for mental health, drug, and alcohol issues, visit FindSupport.gov
- To locate treatment facilities or providers, visit FindTreatment.gov or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 800-662-HELP (4357)