Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is more than just the “blues”. Affecting up to 5% of adults in the United States, it can last as much as 40 percent of the year. SAD can cause significant impairment of normal daily activity, and can lead to deeper complications if left unaddressed.
For many of us, 2020 has been a year of “affective disorder” with the pandemic, elections, environmental disasters like fires and hurricanes, a national reckoning with police brutality, and a general feeling of ideological conflict. Now, infection rates are skyrocketing, darker days are literally coming, with the seasonal change, and there is no end in sight. Now is the time to take proactive control of our mental health maintenance and take a disciplined approach to the daily routine.
While the world may throw mental health challenges at us every day, we can work on the skills of resilience and balance to keep moving forward.
Seasonal Affective Disorder itself has some very specific causes and treatments, and shouldn’t be confused with generalized anxiety or sadness. The symptoms of SAD are the same as those of major depression, only that they occur during the winter months. There are also some people who suffer from seasonal depression in the spring and summer months, but the majority experience SAD when the available sunlight is less.
Symptoms may include:
- Feeling sad or depressed most of the day, almost every day.
- Loss of interest in previously engaging activities.
- Difficulty sleeping, or too much sleep.
- Fatigue that cannot be explained by work or activity.
- Feeling agitated or restless.
- Changes in appetite or unexplained weight gain or loss.
- Feeling guilty, hopeless or worthless.
- Suicidal thoughts.
Seasonal changes may also have an effect on people with bipolar, some may experience a “down” mood in the autumn and mild hypomania in the spring as daylight begins to lengthen.
Sunlight, or artificial sunlight is often the key to treatment of SAD. Many people get help using light therapy, such as a light box or full-spectrum lamps, and it can also be helpful to try to find ways to maximize outdoor time whenever possible, by parking further away from the store or office, for example, to allow a bit more walking time under the sky.
Cognitive behavior therapy has been found helpful by many people, and, in severe cases, medication may be prescribed. Consult your physician or other medical practitioner if you are experiencing these symptoms, it is not something that you can “snap out” of, don’t be afraid of asking for help.
Seasonal Affective Disorder. American Psychiatric Association: https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/depression/seasonal-affective-disorder