winter-sunriseFrom time to time here on COMPASSion’s blog we’ll highlight a diagnosable mental health condition and attempt to shed some light on it.

Today, we mean that quite literally—pun intended.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (also known as SAD) is a form of clinical depression that most often emerges during the late fall to early winter months and seems to be associated with the change in seasons.  A much smaller percentage of people experience SAD in the spring or early summer months. For people who experience SAD, it tends to begin and end about the same time every year.  A decrease in the number of daylight hours is thought to be a precipitating factor in SAD for many people, and light therapy is a common treatment.

SAD is a subtype of major depression, and symptoms include:

  • Feeling depressed most of the day, nearly every day
  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having low energy
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Having problems with sleeping—insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Experiencing changes in your appetite or weight—increased or decreased
  • Feeling either sluggish or agitated
  • Having difficulty concentrating
  • Having recurrent thoughts of death or suicide

Women tend to experience SAD more often than men, but men may have more severe symptoms.  A previous diagnosis of clinical depression or bipolar disorder may predispose a person to SAD, or people with these conditions may experience a worsening of symptoms seasonally.  An estimated 10-20% of recurrent depression cases follow a seasonal pattern.  Prevalence of SAD may vary by geographic location, and rates have been found to be as high as almost 10% in New Hampshire and as low as less than 2% in Florida.  Interestingly, the prevalence of SAD increases with latitude in North America, but this correlation is insignificant in other parts of the world.  You can learn more about these statistics here.

Seasonal Affective Disorder is often treated with light therapy, or daily exposure to a light box containing fluorescent lamps.  The optimal timing of exposure has been the subject of debate. Some studies have shown morning exposure to be more effective than evening exposure; at least one meta-analysis found morning plus evening exposure to be most efficacious.  Moderate to severe cases have also been treated with antidepressants.

A recent study found that the effects of talk therapy for treating SAD were equally effective and also longer lasting in comparison to light therapy.  You can read about it here.

If you think you might be experiencing SAD and your symptoms are mild, you may want to try some of the techniques highlighted in this previous post to boost your mood.  If your symptoms are more moderate to severe, or if your mild symptoms worsen or don’t im this previous prove, CC would like to help you determine the most appropriate treatment.  Call the center today for more information.