Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons. It usually starts in the late fall and early winter and goes away during the spring and summer. Some people do have episodes of depression that start in the spring or summer, but that is a lot less common. Symptoms of SAD may include:
Feeling hopeless, worthless, and irritable
Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
SAD is more common in women, young people, and those who live far from the equator. You are also more likely to have SAD if you or your family members have depression.
The exact causes of SAD are unknown. Researchers have found that people with SAD may have an imbalance of serotonin, a brain chemical that affects your mood. Their bodies also make too much melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep, and not enough vitamin D.
The main treatment for SAD is light therapy. The idea behind light therapy is to replace the sunshine that you miss during the fall and winter months. You sit in front of a light therapy box every morning to get daily exposure to bright, artificial light. But some people with SAD do not respond to light therapy alone. Antidepressant medicines and talk therapy can reduce SAD symptoms, either alone or combined with light therapy.
I want to add a note from personal experience to this discussion. I took care of my aunt who suffered and died from Alzheimer’s Disease for the last six years of her life. We had always been close and spoke nearly daily on the phone for the years prior to her being diagnosed with the disease One of the things we had discussed was her getting ‘depressed’ in the winter time when the days got short. As I was acquainted with SAD, I feared that she might suffer far more in the winter when it combined with her Alzheimer’s Disease. So, I bought some full spectrum lights for her apartment. These are used in light therapy and unlike regular lights which give a yellow glow, they broadcast the entire spectrum of light – replicating sunlight. So, my aunt was able to have the equivalent of summer daylight in her home during winter’s darkest hours. She never sank into a depression in the years I took care of her. So, light therapy can be effective.
I don’t know if I suffer from SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder – or not. If I do, I think it is a mild case. Don’t know what SAD is?
Here’s the Mayo Clinic explaining it, “Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that’s related to changes in seasons — SAD begins and ends at about the same times every year. If you’re like most people with SAD, your symptoms start in the fall and continue into the winter months, sapping your energy and making you feel moody. Less often, SAD causes depression in the spring or early summer.”
“Treatment for SAD may include light therapy (phototherapy), medications and psychotherapy.”
What I do know about myself is that I don’t feel happy about the dwindling hours of sunlight as winter advances. I can’t ride my bike as much because of the looming darkness. By late December I am thrilled to see that the days are beginning, very slowly, a few minutes a day, but undeniably, to have more light. I live in Chicago. To help me to enjoy the return of the light as winter ebbs, I have charted the sunrise and sunset for January through March. I mentioned living in Chicago because you likely live elsewhere and your sunrise and set times will vary somewhat from mine.
It seems like 100 years ago that I took care of my aunt who was suffering form Alzheimer’s Disease. Going into her first afflicted winter, I recalled her having told me that she “always felt down” in the winter time. Not long before that, her physician had said to me that it would be no problem keeping her in her home if she didn’t become aggressive. As I wanted her to remain in her home, I started looking into Seasonal Affective Disorder.
During this time of long hours in our homes due to the pandemic, and with the onset of shorter, darker winter days, I thought it would be worthwhile to talk about SAD.
Here is what the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) says about SAD.
Many people go through short periods of time where they feel sad or not like their usual selves. Sometimes, these mood changes begin and end when the seasons change. People may start to feel “down” when the days get shorter in the fall and winter (also called “winter blues”) and begin to feel better in the spring, with longer daylight hours.
In some cases, these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks, and handles daily activities. If you have noticed significant changes in your mood and behavior whenever the seasons change, you may be suffering from seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a type of depression.