Illustrated photo by Kyle Broad
When the leaves have fallen off the trees, the cold weather rolls in with shorter days and longer, colder nights, most of us feel the effect of the season changes, physically and mentally. Bears go into hibernating while we might feel like a time to snug back in bed and stay there as long as we could. It is normal for us to feel down, or having a “blue day” occasionally, maybe more frequently in the winter. This not-so-great feeling or bad mood might go away after a few days. If it lingers longer than a week and the bad mood interferes with your daily routines, then you should seek professional help to find out if you are suffering from depression or not.
Here are a few facts about seasonal depression we should be aware of:
Illustrated photo by William Stitt
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons, typically starting in the late fall and early winter when the days grow short and you get less and less sunlight. SAD normally goes away during the spring and summer.
A study funded by National Institute of Mental Health has found that most SAD symptoms coming from daily body rhythms that have gone out-of-sync with the sun. Rhythms that have lost their bearings due to winter's late dawn and early dusk accounted for 65 percent of SAD symptoms; re-aligning them explained 35 percent of melatonin's antidepressant effect in patients with delayed rhythms, the most common form of SAD.
Illustrated photo by Hernan Sanchez
To be diagnosed with SAD, people must meet full criteria for major depression coinciding with specific seasons (appearing in the winter or summer months) for at least 2 years. Seasonal depressions must be much more frequent than any non-seasonal depressions.
- Experiencing changes in your appetite. You might have frequent craving for carbohydrates and tend to be overeating. This results in weight gain.
- Feeling sluggish, having low energy.
- Experiencing hepersomia, a condition in which you feel sleepy-headed most of the time and spend excessive time in sleeping.
- Feeling blue, depressed most of the time.
- Having social withdrawal
Illustrated photo by Eli DeFaria
According to NIMH (National Institute of Mental Health), the causes of SAD are still unknown, but research has found some biological connections to the disorder:
- People with SAD may have trouble regulating one of the key neurotransmitters involved in mood, serotonin. One study found that people with SAD have 5 percent more serotonin transporter protein in winter months than summer months. Higher serotonin transporter protein leaves less serotonin available at the synapse because the function of the transporter is to recycle neurotransmitter back into the pre-synaptic neuron.
- People with SAD may overproduce the hormone melatonin. Darkness increases production of melatonin, which regulates sleep. As winter days become shorter, melatonin production increases, leaving people with SAD to feel sleepier and more lethargic, often with delayed circadian rhythms.
- People with SAD also may produce less Vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to play a role in serotonin activity. Vitamin D insufficiency may be associated with clinically significant depression symptoms.
Illustrated photo by Roksolana Zasiadko
- SAD affects many people in northern latitudes in winter who live far north or south of the equator
- SAD affects females 4 times more often than males.
- Younger adults have a higher risk of SAD than older adults. SAD has been reported even in children and teens.
- Family history. People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
- SAD affects people who already suffer from other types of depression or bipolar disorder. It worsens the symptoms as the winter season comes.
- With medication. You may need to try several different antidepressant medications before finding the one that improves your symptoms without causing problematic side effects. Make sure you describe your symptoms clearly to your doctor so he/she can give you the best advices and the right treatments.
- Light therapy. Light therapy has been a mainstay of treatment for SAD since the 1980s. The idea behind light therapy is to replace the diminished sunshine of the fall and winter months using daily exposure to bright, artificial light. Symptoms of SAD may be relieved by sitting in front of a light box first thing in the morning, on a daily basis from the early fall until spring. Most typically, light boxes filter out the ultraviolet rays and require 20-60 minutes of exposure to 10,000 lux of cool-white fluorescent light, an amount that is about 20 times greater than ordinary indoor lighting.
- Psychotherapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is type of psychotherapy that is effective for SAD. CBT-SAD relies on basic techniques of CBT such as identifying negative thoughts and replacing them with more positive thoughts along with a technique called behavioral activation.
- Vitamin D. Low level of vitamin D found in people with SAD. But some studies suggested that the vitamin D supplement treatment has very little effect on SAD.
Please talk to your health professionals for any symptom or treatment.
Take this quiz to find out if you have signs of SAD.
Reference: National Institute of Mental Health