Seasonal Affective Disorder: What You Should Know

The Holiday Season is known by many as a happy time. If you look around this time of year, more often than not you’ll find pictures of smiling faces, the sound of laughter on the radio, and episodes of television full of cheer. But for many others, the holiday season is the beginning of a time of low energy, difficulty sleeping, and major depression.

cold grey weather

Photo Credit

Seasonal Affective Disorder–the clinical term for seasonal depression–is a common occurrence in America, with over three million unique cases being reported each year. First formally recognized in 1984, Seasonal Affective Disorder is currently classified by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) as a recurrent major depressive disorder. As such, symptoms often include—but are by no means limited to—the feeling of hopelessness or worthlessness, having problems with sleep or appetite, and frequent pervasive depression, often punctuated by thoughts of death or suicide. Interestingly, however, the symptoms are brought on in autumn and often persist through the end of winter.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the specific cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder remains unknown. Theories range from a serotonin deficiency brought on by a drop in sunlight, to an imbalance in melatonin levels causing instabilities in mood, to a simple misalignment of your body’s circadian rhythm leading to an unstable sleep schedule and the feelings of depression that result. Regardless of the cause, the impact is far-reaching and tends to become widespread in more extreme latitudes.

Although the cause of the disorder remains unknown, diagnosis and treatment are well-known and effective. Seasonal Affective Disorder manifests in a number of ways unique from a typical depression diagnosis, including a hypersensitivity to rejection and a heavy, weighted feeling in the limbs. This, along with the unique timing of the disorder, has given clinicians the tools they need to effectively identify those who suffer from SAD, which in turn allows psychologists to properly address the issue.

Treatments of SAD tend to line up with the treatment of depression in general, including talk therapy and medication. However, due to the theories regarding the cause of Seasonal Affective Disorder, a novel solution has presented itself in the form ofphototherapy, in which a light therapy box is used to expose your body to wavelengths of light that mimic the sun. According to the Mayo Clinic, exposure to such wavelengths of light seems to reverse many of the symptoms of SAD. Though research on the subject is limited, it appears to be an effective solution for many who suffer from seasonal depression.

Whatever the treatment, the important thing is to know that you’re not alone, and that treatments exist. If you suffer from seasonal depression, it is possible that you have Seasonal Affective Disorder, and you don’t have to suffer alone. Contact us with any questions you may have. We’re here to help.