Seasonal Affective Disorder, the Lowdown, Tuesday 11 December 2018

As winter approaches many of us may begin to feel the “winter blues.” Perhaps we will sleep in more, feel more lethargic in our day to day, notice an increased appetite, or even withdraw socially.*

Because of how common these symptoms are in the winter and fall, it can be easy to overlook them, but for some people colder darker seasons bring an onset of a specific type of depression called Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) can be understood as a set of major depressive episodes occurring within a specific season. While summer onset SAD does occur, it is much rarer than winter SAD. It is not completely understood why this is, but there are a variety of theories including, but not limited to:

  • Decreased production of serotonin in specific populations
  • Increased production of melatonin, the neurotransmitter involved in the onset of sleepiness
  • Short days disrupting the natural circadian rhythm and changing when melatonin is released
  • A lack of vitamin D

SAD affects some populations more than others. Women, young people, those already suffering from mild to severe depression, and people who live far north of the equator are all at a higher risk of developing SAD. Though doctors disagree about the most effective treatment of SAD, there are a few commonly-used methods that can help.**

  • Medication
    • Like with any type of depressive episode, often SSRIs are prescribed
  • Light Therapy
    • The use of sunlamps in the morning and at midday can rapidly improve the symptoms of SAD
  • Psychotherapy
    • Counseling, especially cognitive behavioral therapy, is often used to treat SAD
  • Vitamin D
    • Whether through increased time in the sun or edible supplements, increasing the body’s exposure to vitamin D may help reduce the effects of SAD

If you notice that the winter blues are hitting you especially hard this year, consider looking into the treatment methods listed above, and talking to your therapist about how the seasons may affect you. If you are able, try to maximize your time in the sun as the days get shorter to make sure your body is getting the sunlight and vitamin D it needs to keep you happy.

Sources:

*Geddes, L. (2017, May 25). Will Norway Ever Beat the Winter Blues? Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2017/03/seasonal-affective-disorder-mosaic/519495/

**Seasonal Affective Disorder. (2016, March). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/seasonal-affective-disorder/index.shtml

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